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(506) 2223-1327               Published Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2009,  in Vol. 9, No. 218      E-mail us
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fallen agent
Randall López Garita

Jorge Rojas and Francisco Dall'Anese (right) meet the press over the shootout
Rojas and Dall'Anese
A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas

Judicial agent dies in gun battle with murder suspect
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
and the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Agents caught up with a suspect Tuesday in the murder of a university student, and a judicial investigator died in the subsequent shootout.

A second judicial agent suffered a bullet wound, and two individuals were detained after the confrontation in San Antonio de Escazú. A third person showed up at a hospital with a bullet wound, and investigators still are not sure of that person's role in the shootout, if any. One report said an elderly passerby suffered a bullet wound.

The suspect in the Thursday murder escaped and was still at large late last night. Officials mounted a massive search that included helicopters in the Escazú mountains.

Those shooting at investigators were said to be Jamaicans, but Francisco Dall'Anese, the nation's chief prosecutor, stopped short of saying the case involved organized crime.

The Escazú municipal police said the shootout took place 500 meters south of the west side of the plaza in San Antonio de Escazú. The report said that municipal police participated in the event.

Both the municipal police, Dall'Anese and Jorge Rojas, director of the Judicial Investigating Organization, said the individuals fired AK-47 weapons. Dall'Anese said that the protective vest worn by the judicial agent was not strong enough to stop a bullet from this type of weapon.

The dead agent was identified as Randall López Garita, 30, who has worked for the Judicial Investigating Organization for three years. Previously he was a Fuerza Pública officer, said a spokesperson for the agency. López suffered a bullet wound to the heart.

Injured was Joaquin Sánchez, another agent, who suffered a bullet wound to the arm. He has worked at the agency for nine years.

Both men were in a vehicle when they encountered a car containing the principal suspect in the Thursday shootout in Los Yoses.
Teams of investigators have been working since Thursday to find the individuals responsible for the murder of Milena María Madriz Muñoz, 20, a Universidad de Costa Rica microbiology student.

She was the innocent victim caught in a crossfire in front of the CitiBank branch about 5:30 p.m. on an access road for Avenida Central not far from Mall San Pedro. She died at the scene with a bullet in the head. She is the daughter of a Costa Rican diplomat.

Rojas said that the man sought Tuesday was involved in the Thursday shootout. Dall'Anese said that investigators still do not know what caused the Thursday shootout between groups of Jamaicans.
Brass from .22-caliber and 9-mm bullets were found at that scene.

Both Dall'Anese and Rojas appeared at a press conference in the Judicial Investigating Organization headquarters about 6:45 p.m. Dall'Anese lamented the presence in the country of weapons like AK-47s.

Typically judicial agents carry 9-mm. pistols.

The AK-47, frequently called a Kalashnikov after its designer, is a weapon of war. Many such weapons are in Latin America today as a result of the Nicaraguan civil war and continual warfare in Colombia. It can be an automatic or semi-automatic weapon with a banana clip of bullets. Agents found one of the weapons on the roadway after the shootout, Rojas said.

The shootout Tuesday in San Antonio took place about 2:50 p.m. Rojas was guarded when talking about the case. He did not identify those who had been detained, except to say they were being processed in the courts.

The Fuerza Pública detained one man in Los Yoses after a public bus blocked one of the vehicles involved in the Thursday shootout. Later that night agents raided a home in Santo Domingo de Heredia but made no arrests.

A spokesman for the Municipalidad de Escazú asked residents to be on the alert because one or more of the individuals in the shootout may be fugitives in the area.


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 218

Costa Rica Expertise
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Puriscal Properties
sportsmens update
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Professional Directory
A.M. Costa Rica's professional directory is where business people who wish to reach the English-speaking community may invite responses. If you are interested in being represented here, please contact the editor.


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Another forum scheduled
to save Puriscal's church


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A repeat performance for those who want to save the damaged church in Pursical will take place Thursday at 6 p.m. in the municipal auditorium.

The last session at which participants generally agreed to try to repair the earthquake-damaged structure was in San José.

The Centro de Investigación y Conservación del Patrimonio Cultural is spearheading the effort. The Ministerio de Salud has issued a demolition order because the structure is in danger of collapse. However, the ministry will suspend that order if plans are under way to rebuild the church.

The structure has to be rebuilt from the foundations because the two steeples have been shifted at the base and the church floor has been thrust upwards.

The church was built in the 1930s, so it is not particularly historic, but some in Puriscal feel strongly about preservation and have demonstrated outside the chain link fence that keeps the public from the church.

The last forum on the topic was Oct. 18, and several architectural experts spoke.

The centro, the nation's heritage center, has had experience with a number of churches and their reconstruction.


Our readers' opinions
How about expropriation
and its effect on home value?


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I read your article in AM Costa Rica this morning regarding the new Luxury Home Tax, sad but this tax is being introduced in and at a very horrible time for Ticos & foreigners.  It will greatly reduce buying interest from future foreigners or those who might consider being a foreign investor.

As for the imposed tax, it has a double negative for those of us who live in the Tamarindo & Playa Grande area as the continued expropriation issue has been lingering for four years making it virtually impossible to sell your beachfront property here.  How can we be assessed a property value when the government is allowing a “grey” translation of what properties are being expropriated and what is the Las Baulas park boundaries.  Ask 10 different lawyers to put a letter with the law in writing validating that your property is not going to be expropriated and receive 10 different answers, all of which will be filled with lawyer slick-no-clear-answer talk.

So, the big $10M question????   If you have a property that could be subject to expropriation and the threat and talk of this happening has been stated over and over for three to four years and the government will not make a defining ruling, how can anyone is this situation be subject to any value, and if there is no purchasing value of said properties. How can their be a tax? NO ONE WILL BUY THIS PROPERTY, SO HOW CAN IT HAVE ANY TAXING VALUE?

Not to mention we have been promised a few paved roads & basic infrastructure improvements for the past four years. We produce about 75 percent of the revenues for Santa Cruz Muni and receive virtually ZERO in return, now they want to charge us more taxes?  This place is quickly losing it’s lure and attraction and very shortly the Ticos will say where are all the Gringos. Well..Elvis has left the building, and he won’t be coming back!  Greener pastures are ahead for foreign investors who are tired of getting nothing in return but B.S. And aggravation.

There is the talk of a class action protest, No services..No taxes!  WOW, that’s a novel idea!

Mark Schneider
Langosta

Variable price structure
can be found everywhere


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I have to wonder if people really think about things before they write.

How is any business in CR doing anything different by charging two or three different prices than say, Disney, or any other theme park that has discounts for the residents of the state? Florida resident rates at Universal, Disney, Busch Gardens, etc, is as much as 60% less than out-of-state or foreigners.

Additionally some theme parks go even further and have “seasonal” passes for residents of the state they are in and non-residents can’t even get the passes.

Student discounts, senior discounts, and the like exist in almost all businesses. Looking at things another way.
$65 is six hours work at Wal-Mart for someone in the U.S. $65 is three to five days or more wages for someone in Costa Rica. $8.50 is approximately one day’s wages for a worker in Costa Rica.

Proportionally is scales.

If you want to pick a fight, pick a fight with the restaurants that have 2 or more different menus with different prices. Tico menu, cheap, Gringo menu, expensive, and Spanish menu for Spanish tourists, medium price. Or the stores that have prices in dollars, but only except colons, or do a double conversion if you pay in dollars.

Craig Salmond
San José
 
Government can't handle
new luxury tax on homes


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

In response to Gray’s letter that the Luxury home tax appears to be fair and needed.

If you feel that paying these taxes in a third world country like Costa Rica is fair, well you have at it. It is fair to pay when the government does not even help spread the word on the details? Fair to pay more to a government that can not handle the money it has now? If I wanted to pay more I would live in a place like the U.S. where there is some kind of security. Every one of my friends in Costa Rica has been the victim of violent crime in the recent past, 100 percent. In the U.S. nobody I know has been raped, robbed at gunpoint or been victim of a armed violent home invasion in the far gone past.

It is fair to pay a government that can’t fix a bridge but says they care for its people? Yes, there have been bridge collapses in the U.S. but not when they saw it coming a mile away as parts to fix it sit rusting. Fair to pay a government that can't get enough cell phone lines so you wait six months to a year for one? How are they going to fix the slums when they can not fix anything else?

Now for those that jump at the chance to say “if you don’t like it, then leave” well I am way ahead of you. I did, and right next door. No, not the one with the dictator, the one with security. The one where if you call the police they actually show up. The one with paved roads. The place with 20-year tax exceptions on house taxes. The place where you can actually walk in the street and don’t need a 20-foot wall, alarm, razor wire and guard dog around your overtaxed house.

The place with decent hospitals not only for the rich but for all. The place where driver actually give way to an ambulance and you can also safely cross a street. The place where I can use my car every day no matter the plate number and don’t pay over priced yearly taxes on it. Now is it perfect here? No, nothing is. But it is better than living in a place where all the houses look like mini jails and driving to the supermarket can take your life.

I mean no disrespect to Gary or others that feel paying this much is fair, everyone is entitled to their opinion. However, if you think for a minute the Costa Rican government will use these funds for anything more than home improvement and a new car to some minister and other high ranking officials, I can’t help you. My grandmother use to say “fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice shame on me."

If you still feel the hefty car, house and 13 percent tax on everything else is fair, please don’t leave Costa Rica! I like things the way they are here.
Scott Johnstone
David, Panama

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 218

Museum opens up homes of former army commanders
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Museo Nacional opened two new exhibition areas with a ceremony Tuesday night. The areas are the former homes of the commander and deputy commander of the Costa Rican army.

The houses never have been open to the public.

The new spaces are being used to hold the temporary exhibit "Puertas Abiertas," a recreation of domestic living at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century.

The Casas de los Comandantes are within the museum  complex between Avenida Central and Avenida 2 but have not been open to the public. The museum is in the midst of a major renovation and expansion. The new exposition areas are in the northeast corner of the museum tract.
President Óscar Arias Sánchez inaugurated the new spaces Tuesday night and was able to view the 35 old photos, antique furniture and other historical objects that recreate the main living space, the studio and the largest bedroom in the newly opened facility. The furniture belonged to former president León Cortés, who served from 1936 to 1940.

The museum project involved the Ministerio de Cultura, Juventud y Deportes and the Municipalidad de San José. The project increased the exposition area of the museum by some 700 square meters or more than 7,500 square feet. The cost is about $480,000. The most obvious improvement is a long ramp that allowed wheelchair access to the museum from the west side.

The entrance to the new spaces is from inside the museum. The deputy commander's home is entered from the Sala de Historia Precolombina.


Lazy low pressure area keeps country soaked with rain
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Like the houseguest who stayed too long, a low pressure area that won't move on is continuing to cause rains through the country.

The Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias issued an advisory alert, and the U.S. Hurricane Center warned Tuesday night that the system has a 30 to 50 percent chance of strengthening into a cyclone. That estimate is up from 30 percent the day before.

The hurricane center said that the low pressure area is not expected to move much in the next day or so and that locally heavy rains are possible over Panamá, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Honduras. Already in Costa Rica there has been localized flooding. Some roads are closed by slides.
The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional warned of fog and rains of variable intensities with electrical activity on the Pacific coast, the Central Valley and possibly in the northern zone and Limón.

Heavier rains were predicted for today in the south Pacific coast, and the central Pacific.

Several Costa Ricans have pointed out that despite the rain, the season is changing. They noted the drop in temperature and increasing winds that still are moderate.

Winds and chill are typical of the dry season in the Central Valley. Elsewhere there still are winds but the coastal temperatures continue to be warm.  It is the winds from the north that drive away the humidity and keep Costa Rica dry from mid-December to March.


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 218

   
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Kaplan's $43.6 million fine and jail term finalized in U.S.

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Gary Stephen Kaplan, founder of BetonSports, a large Costa Rican offshore sports wagering business, was sentenced to 51 months in prison on multiple federal charges.

The confirmation of the sentence came from Michael W. Reap, acting U. S. attorney in St. Louis, Missouri.

Pursuant to a complex plea agreement, Kaplan, 50,  entered pleas of guilty Aug. 14 to charges of conspiracy to violate the RICO statute, conspiring to violate the Wire Wager Act and violating the Wire Wager Act.  He appeared Monday for sentencing before U. S. District Judge Carol E. Jackson in St. Louis.

As part of the plea, Kaplan has forfeited to the United States $43.6 million in criminal proceeds. An additional amount of approximately $7 million has been forfeited in related proceedings, bringing the total forfeiture in this case to over $50 million.

Kaplan admitted that beginning in the mid to late 1990s, he set up business entities offshore in Aruba, Antigua and eventually Costa Rica to provide sportsbook services to U.S. residents through Internet Web sites and toll-free telephone numbers.  He founded, operated, and controlled, with other co-conspirators, the enterprise known as BetOnSports. 

According to the U.S. Attorney's Office:

BetOnSports advertised heavily in the U.S. to solicit U.S. residents to place sports wagers by telephone and over the Internet.  BetOnSports-related entities controlled toll free numbers and domain names advertised by BetOnSports.  Technologically, Kaplan’s toll-free telephone lines terminated in Houston, Texas or Miami, Florida and then were forwarded to Costa Rica by satellite transmitter or fiber-optic cable.  Some of Kaplan’s Web servers were located in Miami and were remotely controlled from Costa Rica.  U.S. residents became customers of BetOnSports by depositing funds on account and placing wagers over U.S. toll-free telephone lines and via the Internet using the deposited funds.  Funds were sent from the U.S. customers to operations outside the U.S. and BetOnSports sent winnings from outside the U.S. to its U.S. customers.  

BetOnSports was highly successful and attracted a large number of U.S. customers.  By 2004, the BetOnSports organization’s principal base of operations in Costa Rica employed approximately 1,700 people.  During the year 
ended Jan.31, 2004, BetOnSports had close to 1 million registered customers, accepted over 10 million sports bets in a cumulative gross amount that exceeded $1 billion.  In mid-2004, Kaplan made a successful public offering of the stock of BetOnSports on the London Alternative Investment Market that netted him over $100,000,000.  Those funds eventually found their way into various Isle of Jersey trusts which invested the funds in Swiss bank accounts.

Reap stated: “Kaplan was unique in the scope and scale of his illegal operation.  Despite his immense profits, he is living in federal custody.  This case should serve as a warning to others who might choose to defy the laws of the United States on such a grand scale.”  Reap also noted that, “Kaplan’s business model itself was built on a wager that the U.S. could not and would not enforce its anti-sports book laws to reach Kaplan.  Today, Kaplan lost that wager.”

“In addition to a lengthy prison sentence, Mr. Kaplan forfeited over $43 million to the United States government” said Toni Weirauch, special agent in charge of IRS Criminal Investigation.  “By taking away their assets and profits, we deprive them of the proceeds of their criminal activity.”    

“Gary Kaplan was sentenced to the maximum under the plea agreement which sends a message to those operating illegal offshore gambling enterprises,” said Roland Corvington, special agent in charge of the FBI in St. Louis. “In addition to being in prison, hopefully some of the money forfeited will go to useful purposes such as fighting other Internet-related crimes, such as catching child predators who think they can hide on-line.”

This sentencing concludes a lengthy investigative and prosecution effort by several law enforcement agencies, including the IRS and the FBI.  Kaplan has been in custody without a bond set since his arrest in March, 2007.

The governments of the Isle of Jersey and Switzerland gave assistance with the prosecution, the U.S. government said.

Neil Scott Kaplan, Penelope Ann Tucker and Lori Beth (Kaplan) Multz also have entered guilty pleas in the case and were scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday, but the outcome was not available.

David Caruthers, the No. 2 man at BetOnSports, also has pled guilty and will be sentenced in January.

The original indictment on BetOnSports dates from June 1, 2006. It named 14 persons including Kaplan.



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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 218

Casa Alfi Hotel

Real growth in world wages
slowed by economic crisis


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The International Labor Organization reports global growth in real wages slowed dramatically in 2008 as a result of the economic crisis and wages are expected to drop even further this year, despite signs of a possible economic recovery. The organization warns of worse times ahead. The agency has just issued an update of its Global Wage Report.

The report says the deterioration of real wages around the world calls into question the true extent of an economic recovery, especially if government rescue packages are phased out too early.

In a sample of 53 countries for which data are available, the International Labor Organization finds growth in real average wages had declined from 4.3 percent in 2007 to 1.4 percent in 2008.

The report warns the picture on wages is likely to get worse this year, despite indications of an economic rebound. A specialist, Patrick Belser, says declining wage rates are linked to the levels of unemployment.

"The quite dramatic unemployment figures, which we now see in some of the countries, this strongly suggests that there will be greater pressure on wages in the future as more people will be unemployed, more people will be looking for jobs and the pressure on employers to raise wages to attract workers will decline," he said. "So, we expect that the second part of the year will not be very good in terms of wage growth."

The report finds more than a quarter of the countries experienced flat or falling monthly wages in real terms. They include, the United States, Austria, Costa Rica, South Africa and Germany.

Organization economists say some nations have come up with policies to lessen the impact of lower wages during the economic crisis. An example of these is work sharing with government subsidies.

Under this scheme, the number of individual working hours is reduced in an effort to avoid layoffs. For this scheme to work, the government must provide wage subsidies to compensate for lost pay due to the shorter hours.

Besler says a second important finding in the report is that both developed and developing countries have strengthened their minimum wages in recent years. He calls this good news.

"A large number of countries, including major economies such as the U.S., Brazil, Russia, and also Japan have increased minimum wages by more than inflation figures in 2008. And, these countries have also addressed their minimum wages further in 2009," said Belser. "The ILO considers, as you know that minimum wages are an important tool for social protection and that everyone should have access to decent minimum living wage."

The organization also says the United States is reporting slightly higher rates of unemployment than Europe.

October figures show a 9.4 percent U.S. jobless rate compared to 8.8 percent in the European Union.

The report notes the link between productivity growth and wage increases is essential for economic and social sustainability.

It argues companies should be able to achieve competitiveness through rising productivity rather than by cutting labor costs. And, it says workers should have enough bargaining position to defend their wages.


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 218


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Man who pointed laser
at jets gets 30 months

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A resident of Orange County, California who willfully interfered with aircraft pilots by intentionally shooting a laser at two commercial airliners that were on approach to John Wayne Airport has been sentenced to serve 30 months in federal prison.

The resident, Dana Christian Welch, 38, was sentenced Monday by U.S. District Judge Robert J. Timlin. Welch was sentenced after being convicted in April of two felony charges.

The evidence presented at trial showed that Welch intentionally aimed a handheld laser at two Boeing 7-series jets that were preparing to land at John Wayne Airport on the night of May 21, 2008. The first plane, a United Airlines jet, was carrying more than 180 passengers and crew members. The second plane, operated by Alaska Airlines, was carrying more than 80 people.

Welch's green laser beam entered the cockpit of the United plane, striking a pilot in the eye and causing the pilot to experience “flash blindness,” prosecutors said. Welch also pointed the green laser beam into the cockpit of the Alaska plane, causing one pilot to duck under a glare shield extending from the dashboard in the cockpit and the other pilot to delay a critical turn necessary to land the plane. After he was arrested the next day, Welch admitted that he had pointed the green laser at two planes and a law enforcement helicopter that had been dispatched to investigate the incidents.

The jury that convicted Welch of shooting the laser at the United and Alaska flights acquitted him of charges that he attempted to interfere with the operators of the helicopter and a Delta Airlines flight.

While several people across the United States have pleaded guilty to federal charges of pointing lasers at aircraft, Welch was the first person in the nation to be convicted at trial of interfering with aircraft pilots by shooting lasers at their planes.


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