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These stories were published Monday, Oct. 21, 2002, in Vol. 2, No. 208
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Villalobos said he feared a second office raid
By the A. M. Costa Rica staff

Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho said he closed his investment operation last week because he had information that prosecutors were going to raid him again.

Most of the money he owes to investors is safe, but when and if he opens his investment business again it will be "as a guerrilla operation, totally private," he said.

In the meantime, paying bills is his primary objective.

Villalobos made these statements in an e-mail exchange with A.M. Costa Rica Friday and Saturday. He declined to confirm that he still was in Costa Rica and said his location was not important.

"I was obligated to close my offices on Monday due to information I received from private investigators we hire to find out what was going on [in] the prosecutor office," Villalobos wrote in English.

"I was informed that since the prosecutor did not find anything on the papers they confiscated on July 4, 2002, on my offices or the other persons involved in the police action they were planning to raid us again." 

This time prosecutors have more information about his offices and especially "the building where I have most of records and folders with private information," he said.

"Apparently, some of the people I owe money have been informing the prosecutor office about all the moves I make and what offices I used and where," he said in the e-mail. He closed the office to protect his investors and to keep prosecutors from looking into the private deals he made and the working bank accounts he still has that he used to pay investors interest for August and September.

Prosecutors froze some 50 bank accounts when they raided Villalobos’ offices in the San Pedro Mall. Since then his mostly North American investors have been on pins and needles waiting to see if they would continue to receive the 2.8 to 3 percent monthly interest from him and their principal. The freeze lasts until Nov. 26.

Perhaps as much as 70 percent of the North Americans living in Costa Rica are investors with Villalobos. He was unable to pay September interest.

Villalobos in his e-mail correctly pointed out that no accusations have been leveled against him."There is nobody accused at this moment." he said.  "It is unfinished investigation. 

"Prosecutor have to prove my connection with narcotrafic. When this happens, if ever happens, I will defend myself in Costa Rica  courts. If does not happen, prosecutor have to release frozen funds. Then my lawyers will advise me what to do best."

Investigators here made the raid July 4 at the request of Canadian officials who said that six drug and money laundering suspects there moved their money through Ofinter S.A., a money exchange house operated by the brother of Luis Enrique, Osvaldo. That business closed Monday, too.

Luis Enrique Villalobos said he advised his brother to close Ofinter to protect his workers because he said that "people I owe money will put pressure on them if I close my offices." He also said that some of his investors had tried to cash the checks he used to give to investors as security at the Ofinter firm. The checks were used as a form of promissory note and were never designed to be cashed.

"I am not dead and at this moment. Most of the money I owe is safe," said Villalobos. "I will pay first what is due in interest and, when situation is better, capital. Only difference is in the future I will work my business as a guerrilla operation, totally private." 

In an e-mail Saturday Villalobos said "Please understand that at this moment my hands are full and my mind is about to explode."
 

On other fronts

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A pensionado from Berkeley, Calif., has announced a committee set up to  "organize a unifying and democratic organization to deal with the situation at hand and what possible other difficulties develop."

The group calls itself United Investors of Costa Rica, and it is planning an open meeting Oct. 31 at 9 a.m. in the Gran Hotel Costa Rica. "We are building this structure to be ready to respond if Mr. Villalobos´ accounts are not unfrozen," said the organizer, Rick Ellis.

This is the latest in a number of groups that are forming to protect investors and, in some cases, provide support to Villalobos.

Meanwhile, J. Robert Shannon reports in a letter circulating by e-mail and printed below today that he visited with police investigators Friday and found them largely supportive of investors. He said he was told investigators have found nothing illegal with the Villalobos operation.


Poker winner José Rosenkrantz holds a made-for-television check, above. Earlier competitors sweated out the final, at right.
A.M. Costa Rica/Garett Sloane
Local poker masters bring home the bacon
By Garett Sloane
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some of the best poker players were in town over the weekend, but it was a Tico who ended up winning a world-class tournament.

Casinos Europa was the host for the poker finals that followed a week of lesser tournaments that drew over 1,200 participants, according to organizers.

Jim Bonnett, director of the tournaments, said hundreds of American and international poker players received complimentary rooms at the expense of host Louis Milanes, owner of Casinos Europa. Players competed for more than $350,000.

The World Poker Tour event presented the largest jackpot of the week, over $108,000 for the winner. The World Poker Tour is a new poker phenomenon produced in Hollywood. The tour is filmed for American cable television which will broadcast 13 tournaments around the world culminating in a final World Poker Tour Championship at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, Nev., beginning April 14. 

The winner of each tournament, like the one held here, is awarded free entry into the final. It would cost them $25,000 to enter otherwise. Producers of the event expect that jackpot will be worth more than $2.5 million.

Americans faired well this week at the tournaments. Dewey Tompko, and R.A. Head, both of Florida, were among the final six competitors at the World Poker Tour. Lucky Sanderlin of Tuscon, Ariz., was awarded the best player for all of the tournaments. Sanderlin placed at the final table at three of 

the tournaments and racked up the most overall points. He won more than $20,000 this week.

Milanes was the heavy favorite going into the final six for the world event, because he entered with more chips than the rest of the competitors combined. He was also the home crowd favorite considering he owned the place.

The brand of poker played is called "Texas hold-em" with no limit on the amount of bet a player can raise. Texas hold-em is poker played with seven cards. 

José Rosenkrantz, a Costa Rican, slowly chipped away at Milanes’ initial lead. Bonnett said Rosenkrantz eventually overcame the lead, because he displayed patience.

Rosenkrantz’s patience turned to aggressive play. He took the game to one final showdown, and Milanes bet everything on his straight to the ace. Unfortunately for him Rosenkrantz had a full house.

Rosekrantz’s winnings were rolled out on an oxen-pulled cart, and more than $80,000 in colons was escorted to the table. The oxen were stunning white and their horns were capped in bright metal.

The producers of the World Poker Tour event said they were pleased with this display of Tico culture. They are looking to capture the flavor of each country they film in. Another part of the culture they were exposed to was the rare sight of guards with rifles surrounding the cash winnings. 

One producer said that was different protocol from other tournaments they have filmed.

A.M. Costa Rica’s first Halloween story contest

Since Halloween is not really celebrated in Costa Rica, we thought we would help to get everybody into the spirit.
We are looking for your original horror stories of 1,000 words or less.

Sure, you can scare the bejeezus out of a group of boy scouts around a campfire, but can you frighten our readers?

The stories will be judged by the A.M. editor and staff on the basis of their originality and spook-factor. Extra points will be awarded to stories related to Costa Rica.

The scariest will be published in our Oct. 31 edition, and the winner will receive $25. The deadline for submissions is Tuesday, Oct. 29. Send your spooky stories to editor@amcostarica.com
 

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Youngsters in bands and flag groups, including these from Escuela José Rafael Araya Rojas of La Florida de Tibás, were on Avenida 2 Sunday morning to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Asociación Nacional de Educadores. The association’s annual convention begins Wednesday in Heredia. The parade lasted nearly five hours and had representatives from schools all over the country.

A.M. Costa Rica photo

 
Ecuadorians ‘undecided’
on who is to lead

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

QUITO, Ecuador — A third of voters in Ecuador are undecided as they go to the polls in what is seen as the tightest presidential election in the Latin American country since democracy was restored more than two decades ago. 

Polls opened at 7 AM local time Sunday amid tight security. 

A survey published Saturday showed four of the 11 candidates in a statistical tie with about 19 percent each. They are socialist lawyer Leon Roldos, former Colonel Lucio Gutierrez, wealthy banana exporter Alvaro Noboa and former President Rodrigo Borja.
The top two finishers will qualify for a run-off election Nov. 24. 

None of the major candidates has offered to make major changes in economic policy in an oil-rich country with a fast rate of growth. However, over half the population of 12 million lives in poverty. 
Voters in Ecuador are also choosing 100 congressional representatives and scores of local leaders. 

The vote is the first presidential election since a military-backed Indian uprising two years ago that ousted President Jamil Mahuad, who was replaced by Vice President Gustavo Noboa.

Peruvian president
admits his guilt

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

LIMA, Peru — President Alejandro Toledo has acknowledged he is the father of a 14-year-old girl he had long denied was his daughter. 

Toledo privately recognized the child as his daughter Friday, closing a high-profile paternity case that has dogged him for the past 10 years. Media reports say Toledo has agreed to pay his daughter, Zarai, $100,000 to settle the case. 
There was no immediate comment from the government palace, but an official announcement was expected later.

The acknowledgment is a victory for Zarai and her mother, Lucrecia Orozco. Ms. Orozco had long maintained that the president fathered her child. Previous blood tests showed a 97 percent probability that the president is the father. 

Zarai and her mother had waged a high-profile campaign to force Toledo to admit paternity. 
The story again made news this week after a Supreme Court judge involved in the case admitted visiting the president to try to broker a deal for Toledo to recognize his daughter. 

Earlier this year, the same judge headed a panel that suspended an order that would have forced the president to take a DNA test.

Street kids wounded, say child advocacy group

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

GAUTEMALA CITY, Guatemala — A total of six street youth, one of them 4 months pregnant, were wounded, some seriously, after a drive by shooting against a group of twenty children sleeping in the downtown here early yesterday morning, says Casa Alianza, a child advocacy group based here.

Nery Rolando Recinos, 16, Jaquelin Yajaira Franco Barrera, 15, Henry Giovani Alvarez Jimenez, 19, and Emilio Sanay Sirin, 26, were all treated and released from the San Juan de Dios hospital. 

The pregnant girl Sandra Verónica Guamuch Torres, 17, and Manuel Isaisa Aj, 15, who was shot in the right knee, were both hospitalized in serious but stable condition, according to the advocacy group.

The advocacy group said the 22 homeless children and youth from the ages of 12 and up, were sleeping in a large abandoned house known as "La Casona" in Zone 4 here when two men walked by the building and insulted the homeless group. 

Shortly after, they say, two armed men on a motorcycle drove by at about 1:30 a.m. and opened fire on the mass of children trying to sleep, resulting in several of the indigents being wounded. 

According to witnesses, say the advocacy group, a few minutes later a black Chevrolet Suburban vehicle with polarized windows drove to the entrance of the house and one of the occupants partially wound down the window and shouted that if the children reported the crime, then they would return to "finish them off".

"La Casona" is a partly demolished house that serves as a "home" for several dozen street children who are regularly visited by the advocacy group’s street educators. 

Many of the children are addicted to toxic solvent-based shoe glue, which suppresses their feelings of hunger and cold, the advocacy group said.

The advocacy group also said that several of the traumatized children immediately went to look for a police car, which arrived shortly afterwards. 
According to the youngsters, as the police called an ambulance, the same black Chevrolet returned to the scene of the crime and despite their explaining to the police that these were the culprits, the police did not try to detain the vehicle or question the occupants.

Despite the fact that the advocacy group reported this most recent serious incident to the authorities, the Public Prosecutor has not yet visited the scene of the crime nor has interviewed the hospitalized victims, said the group. 

Investigators from the advocacy group’s Legal Aid Program recovered seven bullet shells and a bullet head as evidence from the scene of the crime, which, they say, have been forwarded to the authorities.

The bloody incident occurs on the eve of a presentation on violence against children in Latin America to be held at the Inter American Commission on Human Rights in Washington tomorrow afternoon. 

The advocacy group, together with several other child rights agencies, will present the plight of street children in Mexico and Central America, including the murders of more than 1,400 children and youths in Honduras since 1998, said the advocacy group.

Land dispute sparks
double shooting

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A dispute over land sparked a shooting in which two brothers died Thursday. The incident happened on Finca Los Lirios in Las Marías de Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí about 7:45 p.m.

Dead are Walter Alvarado Romero, 32, and Manuel Alvarado Romero, 35, according to Fuerza Pública officers. Officers said a judge the previous Monday had ordered the men to abandon their dwellings on land owned by a man with the name of Chevez Caracas, 33.

Police said they thought the two brothers had a confrontation with Chevez Caracas and died when he shot them. The property owner suffered knife wounds, said police.

Undocumented stopped

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police from the Puntarenas comandancia stopped a microbus early Thursday on the Interamerican Highway and found 12 undocumented Nicaraguans inside as well as the driver, Castrillo  Mairena, 28 and her companion, Centeno Villarreal, 22. All were taken into custody. 

Undertow victim found

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police think they have found the body of a youth swept out to sea while bathing at Jacó Oct. 13.

The body was found near the Isla Punta Mala by the vessel Karla and crew about 4 p.m., and the physical description matches that of Alonso Araya Pérez, 17.

Quake hits off coast

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An earthquake measuring a magnitude of 4.7 struck in the Pacific some 480 miles (775 kms.) south of San José Saturday about 9:30 a.m. according to the U.S. National Earthquake Information Center. The quake was 10 kms. (6.2 miles) deep and was 260 miles (420 kms.) southeast of Isla del Coco.

Potential coup brushed
off by Chavez

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela — President Hugo Chavez has dismissed the possibility of a coup or civil war, amid calls by business leaders for a general strike Monday to protest his leadership.

During an official visit to Norway Friday, Chavez told reporters he absolutely was not afraid of being ousted again after being driven from office for two days last April. He said the general strike was a "ghost," and nothing to fear. 

Chavez also said he has no plans to increase Venezuela's oil production beyond OPEC quotas, despite a proposed state budget that assumes a higher output next year. He said world oil prices currently are fair, but would fall if production increased.

Norwegian oil officials said they remain highly interested in investing in projects here, despite Chavez's political and economic conflicts at home. 

Norway, the world's third-biggest crude oil exporter, is not an OPEC member, but often cooperates with the cartel's efforts to manage the global oil market.
 

Brazilian opinion grows 
more toward Silva

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BRASILIA, Brazil — A new opinion poll shows presidential front-runner, Luiz Inacio da Silva, has widened his lead ahead of runoff elections later this month. 

The survey by the Datafolha pollsters has Silva gaining two percentage points from a poll conducted by the same institute last week. 

He now has the support of 66 percent of voters. Support for his opposing candidate, Jose Serra, fell two points to 34 percent. 

In the first round of elections on Oct. 6, Silva won 46 percent of the vote, just short of the out-right majority he needed to prevent the runoff election. Serra received 23 percent of votes. 

The survey was conducted Friday among more than 10,000 people. It has a margin of error of two percentage points.

Embassy employee
spots fraud suspect

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An alert embassy employee spotted a 42-year-old man Thursday morning and identified him as the person sought by police as a suspect in a string of frauds.

The suspect was identified by the Fuerza Pública as Porras Vidaurre, 40. The arrest was on Avenida 2 near Calle 7 in the heart of the downtown.

Police did not identify the embassy employee, but officials did say that among the victims of the frauds were the German Embassy, which lost $24,000 and the British Embassy, which lost $39,000.

Agents of the Judicial Investigating Organization said the man was a suspect in 12 frauds in the San José area and three cases of vehicle theft. Other fraud cases are still open in Grecia, Atenas and San Carlos, said investigators.

Agents said the embassy employee recognized the man as someone who tried to pass a bad check in order to purchase a vehicle that the embassy had advertised in the newspapers two weeks ago.

The man is a suspect in a long string of cases where a man would approach persons who had advertised their car for sale in the classified pages. 

He would go with the owner to a bank, lawyers’ offices or a parking lot on the pretext of going to obtain the money to complete the transaction. 

The man would leave and reappear a short while later to tell the car owner that he was short just 10,000 or 20,000 colons ($27 to $54) to complete the deal. He would seek a brief loan so he could get the larger amount.

After taking the money, the man would disappear, said police. At least one time a car owner gave the man the keys to the vehicle, which later was found in Guanacaste.
 

Investigators warn
merchants on thefts

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Five or six criminal bands seem to have keys to stores downtown, and the bands are cleaning out the merchants during the night, according to investigators.

The Judicial Investigating Organization issued a warning to store owners Friday. They said that the bands are most active in the final days of October and the early days of November when merchants have stocked up for the Christmas season.

Investigators warned merchants to check their locks and to consider installing devices that resist being cut by thieves.  But this presents another problem, said investigators.

Some sales persons and others in the security business are providing copies of keys to the thieves. 

They even go so far as to make impressions of the keys when asked to do a job by merchants. Later they make keys from the wax impressions, said agents.

About 20 to 25 stores are sacked by thieves each Christmas season, said agents, and the total loss is about 100 million colons ($270,000) in merchandise.
 
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A.M. Costa Rica/Garett Sloane
Three countries are represented in the opening ceremonies at the home.
Sunday was a big day at the home for adults
By Garett Sloane
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Residents of Guápiles and the Angel of Love Foundation celebrated Sunday the third anniversary of the Tom and Norman Home there.

More than 100 Ticos came from all over Costa Rica to the home for the elderly. There was food served out of the home’s volunteer-staffed kitchen. The people danced and drank like at most town fiestas. 

There was a pageant that many grandmothers entered, not the residents of the home. The contestants were judged on how many raffle tickets they could sell for the home, and honored for their large families. One woman has given birth to 17 children.

Donlon Havener, an event organizer for the home, said that every month he visits the home it is more liveable. He gives much of the credit to Alexis Barquero, the home’s director, and the people of Guápiles, who have donated so much, he said.

Havener said the people "just keep giving, coming and helping."

Where there was nothing but an abandoned stable, there is now a home with electricity, heated water and cable television. 

Havener said that the people of Guápiles each brought a cement block to build the bathrooms. He said it was not prompted by the organization, but a spontaneous act of the people. 

Havener and other North American supporters say that they help with fundraising, but when it comes to the management of the home, the Ticos are the driving force. 

Barquero called Havener and other North Americans the Guardian Angels of the foundation. But Claudette Limoges, a North American supporter, calls Barquero the "real angel of the foundation." 

Due to a lack of bed frames Barquero sleeps with his mattress on the floor.

Havener said the foundation has two requirements a potential resident must meet. They must be penniless and abandoned by their family. 

Dona Francisca Barante Granados, one of the home’s first residents, was found in a hospital after being hit by a car. She lived under a bridge before she entered the home. One resident was found living on a mountain using a sheet of tin as shelter.

Vilma Fishbough is the only American citizen living

A.M. Costa Rica/Garett Sloane
Vilma Fishbough: only U.S. citizen at home.

in the home. She was born in Cartago, but married an American and lived in the States for more than 20 years. She and her husband moved back to Costa Rica to retire before he died. 

Although Fishbough is fine mentally, the Costa Rican government placed her in a mental institution. That is where the foundation found her. 

When they took her back to the home and looked through her belongings they found out she was an American citizen, who collected Social Security. She hasn’t collected since 1993, but the organization is trying, through the U.S. Embassy, to get her reinstated into the national pension program so she can reclaim her due. 

Havener was critical of what he characterized as a lack of interest displayed by embassy employees.

The home has 12 residents, but Havener predicted that the foundation could eventually handle 20 to 25 people. The organization recently bought 1,820 square yards of adjacent property. The land was purchased and donated by Linda Maoll and Franz Lahmer after the foundation raised the down payment.

On Dec. 1 the Little Theatre Group is hosting a fundraiser for the foundation. Entrance is free to see a quartet perform Christmas songs and classical music, but donations are encouraged.


 
More letters about the Villalobos situation
He's not sympathetic

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I have been reading and reading about the poor Brothers and how all their assets have been frozen and no one is getting their interest payments. Well the stupid people that invested with absolutely no knowledge on how the company makes money to pay such high interest, should loose their money. . .

All the investors are now crying because they have been shut off and will probably loose their capital investment also. Well too bad. The only reason they invested was because of greed and to make a quick buck. If a grown adult does not know or suspect something is wrong to get such high interest, guess what? Shame on you!!! 

Now Mr. Villalobos is some poor businessman who is being persecuted by the government. Do you really think Mr. Villalobos is broke? He must have millions somewhere. Take your lumps and get off the air. You have been ripped off by your own greed and Mr. Villalobos is laughing all the way to the bank. 

    Robert W. De Pretis
Connecticut


In favor of class action

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

The only thing all investors probably should do now is register themselves for a possible class action later on, if necessary! 

In these very difficult times, we all should stay close together and speak out with only one qualified "VOICE!” Not forming little action groups and going separate ways, doing more harm than good to this extremely sensitive case.

Since most of us made lots of money over a period of many years and most of us earned through Villalobos several times, our "Principles,” we owe him, now at least, a fair chance to come up clean with the courts and then to give him some adequate time to reorganize and get his business going again or, if he decides to retire after all this, to make it up to all of us and pay us back, as good as he can. 

Considering the cost and losses he had during the last couple of months, I guess it would be just fair enough to share some of those losses with him, considering it was not his fault and he did no wrongdoing. 

Being all organized and represented through a lawyer, who follows this case for all of us, means that we all will be informed up to the date of what happens, no matter where we live. And accurate information is crucial at this moment to all of us!

I personally have known Villalobos for over 10 years and he is so far the only "LOCAL" I have ever met in Costa Rica who did not try to steal from me, rip me off or harm me in any way he could, the first minute he met me!

I have done business in Costa Rica for 11 years and I know how difficult it was and is, to survive and get by in this country. What Enrique has done in the last 30 years for most of us is a miracle, and we should be thankful to him and let him take care of this matter first. 

If he can not solve this matter, then all we can do is stay close together, getting organized and take class action all together and speaking with one qualified voice and we will be very strong and we will be heard! 

I assume, it would not be a bad idea to join Jon Manners, who came forward in the edition from the 18th Oct., organizing a meeting on Sunday, Plaza de la Cultura as a first start and signing up with him!

Wolfgang Hilbich
San José
Voices full support

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Firstly, I want to say how much it is appreciated by me and all your readers that your newspaper, as always, is doing a great public service by carrying this story and publishing bulletins and letters that put people in touch with the latest news and with one another.

Secondly, I would like to voice my full support for Luis E. Villalobos. Here is a man who has lived up to his financial and spiritual obligations over a long period of time. I wish I could say the same for other businessmen in the world today.

The forced suspension of the Villalobos has brought hardship and pain not only to the investors but to the thousands of Costa Ricans who have, as a result, lost their jobs. The negative short and long-term effects on Costa Rica’s economy are difficult to assess at this point. 

But, for the Government to take away a major economical driving force in an attempt to balance Costa Rica’s debt is pure folly. It will come back to haunt every corner of this beautiful land.

I want to say that part of the responsibility goes to the government of Costa Rica that has, with full knowledge, allowed Villalobos to operate for well over twenty years. 

And having done so has lead many investors, myself included, to believe that Villalobos wasn’t operating outside the law. Maybe a high risk but that’s all.

There isn’t one bank or investment firm in Costa Rica or the world for that matter, that hasn’t inadvertently accepted deposits whose sources were never established and never will be.

I now speak directly to the investigative teams of the Joint Investigative Organization, (O.I.J.), Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Internal Revenue Service and whatever other body that is involved in this investigation to do their job. That is to investigate the sources of the monies in question.

I personally challenge all of these investigative bodies to take each one of us individually, the investors, and scrutinize our personal records to determine any improprieties. 

When I have proven where each cent came from and that it is legal, I believe my principal should be released. Those who are shown to be shady, well, then take their money.

My wife and I worked hard for many years in Canada in our own business. We sold everything to come to Costa Rica, a land free of military power and aggression, to start a new life. I would like to spend the last years of my life here.

If everything that we have is taken away, you are destroying not only the economic lives of honest, hard working people but also the perception that Costa Rica has a fair and peaceful government, with a mind of it’s own and free from outside political pressures.

Chris Sullivan
Tilarán, Guanacaste


Protest rally, boycott

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I think if you are going to have a protest rally, it should be done right in front of the office where the investigation is taking place, during a weekday, so that the idiots here our message loud and clear. 

If everyone involved as a lender whose money is frozen, were to contact all their friends, Gringos, Ticos, Canadians, Europeans, and ask them to assist in a NATIONWIDE BOYCOTT of all product and services in Costa Rica, this would surely have a greater impact. 

Imagine, by banding together, we could bring this country to a complete halt. Please think about it seriously. 

John A. Bisceglio


Another supporter

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

It is time to join our voices together in protest and with specific demands! Our life savings and our very financial survival are being stolen. This theft is not being perpetrated by the company we invested in — but by a department of this country’s supposed "democratic" government. 

These actions appear similar to an infamous regime of the past that systematically and without just cause, stripped a particular segment of their population of all material assets and personal dignity.

Would this same governmental department attach all the savings accounts at Banco Nacional if there was a suspicious deposit? Not a chance. 

Would they freeze the accounts and deny interest to the depositors for 3 + months with no explanation and no criminal charges?   Not a chance.

Everyone needs to send weekly letters to protest this inhuman act - not just the investors; but, all their employees, landlords, market owners etc. who will together lose millions of dollars in revenue every month.

We need to join together in our demand for:

1.  The name of the party or parties that ordered the financial imprisonment of a private individual who had been in a successful, law abiding business for close to 30 years.

2.  The results of 3 months of investigation — are criminal charges going to be made?  If not why are the funds not being released?

3.  A weekly status report on the investigation to make sure the paper shuffle game is stopped.

These actions have bankrupted thousands of solid citizens, residents and law abiding private investors. 

This is a life or death situation for many elderly retired people who came to this country believing that this could never happen here in this "peace loving country".

Mr. Villalobos, please let us know how we can help.

Karen Haskin/Friends of Villalobos
Nosara, Guanacaste


Doesn't favor lawyers

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I spent about two years thinking about investing with Villalobos, researching and weighing options, before finally deciding to take the plunge. As we know, risk=return, so it was a gamble. 

I don't earn a lot. I now live in the USA and was to receive a check every 3 months. I know little of the legal process, except that at the end of the day it's the lawyers that usually cash in. 

A knee-jerk suit against Villalobos is premature. It mirrors exactly what the bureaucrats are doing. 

Perhaps we should wait until the proposed date the freeze will be lifted, that is, Nov. 7 (can't find the article that mentioned this). (Editor's note: It's Nov. 26.)

I realize this does not help those who need cash now, but a class action probably won't get them anything before Nov 7 - it may hinder things. We don't know what he is doing . . . But remember, he has operated to his word for the past 20 years. 

Many will have already reaped substantial return from their investment. Not me, I invested my savings only in February this year. So it's a gamble to sue him now . . . It was a gamble then and it's a gamble now. 

I don't know what is the best thing to do. But I agree with whoever said that in all probability: knee-jerk now and lawyers will take a giant slice of our cash, the government(s) the rest, and everyone else will be left empty handed.
 

Tina Imbley
Davis, CA.
Villalobos is future

Dear A.M. Costa Rica: 

I am a retired business consultant that came to Costa Rican in November 1999 for a two-week vacation. I fell in love with the country and the people. Until this week I have never considered leaving now I fear I must! Yes, I understood the risk of making Villalobos the personal loan that I made with him. 

Yes, I understood that the Costa Rican government had allowed him to do business for over 25 years. I am one investor of average size with Villalobos (the brothers). I receive $3500 a month in interest payments from him on $120,000 invested with him and I spend this money in Costa Rica. 

If Villalobos has 5,000 to 8,000 investors then I average the following income would result directly from Villalobos to Costa Rica: $3500 per month times 12 months equals $42,000 per year per investor; 5000 investors times $42,000 equals $210,000,000 per year spent mostly in Costa Rica; $210,000,000 times 7 equals $1,470,000,000 ripple effect to the Costa Rican economy ripple effect is defined as when a dollar enters the economy it passes from the receiver to business and on to other businesses seven times before it leaves the economy. 

I, like most of Villalobos’ investors, depend on this income to live in Costa Rica. If the government forces him out of business I must leave Costa Rica.  Most of his investors face the same situation. 

On behalf of myself, the other North Americans, and the future of my adopted country, Costa Rica, I plead with you President Pacheco, and the other government officials, to think before you force this man out of business. 

Costa Rica has allowed Villalobos to do business for over 25 years without a reported incident of him doing anything illegal or ever stealing a dollar from any of his investors. 

Costa Rica government officials over the past 10 years have done a wonderful job of attracting and keeping North Americans to both vacation and live here in paradise. Luiz Milanes has brought over 400 tourists to Costa Rica this week alone. By forcing Villalobos out of business Costa Rica will lose all this hard work. 

Sept 27th in the Tico Times, there was a special Nicaragua supplement. The entire supplement was devoted to detailing the beauty of Nicaragua and how cooperative the Nicaragua government has become. No waiting for cell phone lines or other government services etc. 

Aug. 26th, they appointed Irene Arevalo as minister of tourism. She outlined three priorities: promoting investment, developing tourism, and working with small business.  Myself, and some of my North American friends, plan to go to Nicaragua in the next week to see if the Tico Times supplement has any truth. 

I have been told that 70% of the North Americans living in Costa Rica have money with Villalobos.  If you only lose half of us what will that do to every business in Costa Rica that depends on us to survive.  This action of Costa Rica to force Villalobos out of business will cause a $1,400,000,000 loss to the economy of Costa Rica. 

Ask yourself only two questions can Costa Rica survive your actions? Can the Costa Rican economy stand to lose half of their North Americans living in paradise when paradise is no longer paradise? Unless you can prove this man has done something illegal you must release this mans bank accounts and allow him to stay in business for the future of Costa Rica.  This one man is the future of North Americans living in Costa Rica. 

Danny Emmet Phillips
Barrio Dent


Offices are an expense

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

It was announced a few weeks ago that the investments of Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho were frozen until the latter part of November. Therefore, I have no idea why investors would expect Sr. Villalobos to maintain offices that are not conducting business. 

That would be poor management. It is my opinion in reading A.M. Costa Rica that those who are considering retaining legal assistance in recovering their funds prematurely, are acting against their own interests.  I would expect that the Costa Rican Businessman, Villalobos is working with the courts using expert legal representation. Litigation would probably further extend the release of these funds and become very costly. I personally know of one such litigation in Canada that extended over a long period of time and used up all the funds in expenses. 

It is my opinion that Sr. Villalobos is the most capable person, as well as the only qualified person, to obtain the release of these funds.  Records required by the Costa Rican government will be at his disposal. Interference would be counter-productive in obtaining this goal. I further think we should remember that we are guests of Costa Rica and should act accordingly. Personally, I would find it objectionable to watch a group of immigrants demonstrating in Canada, while enjoying the benefits of my home country. 

Respectfully submitted, 

Laura Peel
Alajuela


He visited OIJ offices

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I attended their offices yesterday — Oct. 17 — with Karla to be certain I understood correctly all that was reported.

I requested a meeting some 4 days ago and was greeted with the offer to bring some investors and meet for discussions, which would include them asking me questions also. My friends declined for reasons of their own.

In attendance were the two detectives in charge of the whole investigation. They are working with a staff of 4 people. They were very affable, explicit and offered individual opinions as well. They have all the computer records of Villalobos’ operations, which include names and amounts invested. They also offered information that Villalobos’ operations are very large including resorts and many other ventures here in Costa Rica.

They said he is still in Costa Rica.

First, they said they found nothing to date to implicate Luis or his company. They are aware of the dirty money that came from Canada. [They didn't say Canada so I will assume it, since that was the cause of the investigation.] They were very open and without reluctance in admitting this. As a matter of fact it was a very casual answer like, "No we didn't find anything wrong"

Second, they made it very clear they have a deadline to finish the investigation by the 26th Nov. They appeared to have some sympathy for the people with money tied up.

Third, this investigation is Costa Rican. It is a normal investigation that occurs when evidence appears such as in this case. There are concurrent investigations going on in the US.

Fourth, they openly stated it was their desire to wind up the investigation as soon as possible to get the money back in the hands of it's owners. 

They have in Costa Rica only $6,000,000. They said that if dirty money was found that they would not confiscate all the money but in fact separate that so they could return the other money to the investors. That of course would not be sufficient to pay the investors without the US portion.

Fifth, there are 25 bank accounts in the US and the US is investigating those activities as well, concurrent with Cost Rica. They are working together and in fact spending time waiting for info from the USA. They claim that the United States will take the same attitude regarding return of investors' money there.

The sum of the investigation here is very simple. In their words, they stated we are trying to find what he does with the money to earn such a high rate of return. In their eyes, they do not believe it can be achieved honestly, hence their investigation. 

They are wondering if it is a pyramid or ponzi of some kind, naturally. Also, of course they are looking into any illegal things that they may be doing as well such as laundering or funding terror etc. To date they have found nothing.

I will call them back to ask if they are in anyway sharing the record information with any IRS sources in the USA to ID people here not paying US taxes.

They asked me questions:

How much did I have with the Brothers? Did they ever say there was a limit of how much I could invest? Did I ever ask how they made such a good rate of return? Did I have to be introduced to invest.

I volunteered my experiences during my tenure with Luis Enrique Villalobos, which were as follows:

A. Never had anything but a high regard for their way of doing business

B. Never heard anything detrimental about the company in any form

C. They were in the early years of my association with them very independent and in no way appeared to be promoting investments with their company

D. Very business like and to form all times. Did what they said they would do.

E. Always paid on time

F. Insisted on you knowing people who would care to become part of the program and wanted it in writing and signed.

G. That I invested because I heard from so many people how good an investment it was, and for many years.

H. That I have known Villalobos for the tenure of my investment and have found him to be a gentleman and most courteous at all times. He always appeared very gracious and concerned about people.

I. I was for sure curious about how they could pay such a good rate. I, like many, speculated on the foreign exchange aspect of it and that satisfied me especially after seeing first hand in my own affairs how exchanging money in many forms can be very lucrative.

J. I personally feel that Enrique is a very proud guy and he is totally committed to returning the money to investors if he can.

We asked if they thought that Enrique would return to business. In their opinion they felt he would close.  Purely speculation on their part.

Anything beyond that was casual conversation and if missed here I am sure was not important or pertinent to the information one would like to know about this situation.

Apart from that it was just business as usual conversation speculating. I thought about it all and I believe they were fair questions for an investigation as it relates to their chief concerns.
That is my recollection of the events of yesterday [Thursday]. As an investor I am very concerned about the speculation that has been going around and do not care to have information misconstrued. To that end, I am offering it in writing.
 

J Robert Shannon

 
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