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These stories were published Monday, Nov. 18, 2002, in Vol. 2, No. 228
Jo Stuart
About us
Legal prostitution seen as child abuse factor
By Christian Burnham
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Rosalia Gil, minister of child welfare, took a strong stance against legal prostitution after a seminar Friday on sexual exploitation of minors. Minister Gil spoke in favor of eradicating legal sexual tourism, acknowledging its correlation to sexual abuse of children.

"Tourists all over the world think of Costa Rica as a place for sexual diversions, and it’s leading to larger social problems," said Minister Gil when questioned by a reporter.

At the seminar, various representatives gathered to launch new strategies in snuffing out sexual abuse of children in this country. The panel included officials from the Judicial Investigation Organization, Policía de Transito, Minsterio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública and the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería, among others.

A representative from the Spanish government also attended the seminar to describe a pact made between the two countries to fight the societal ill. Spain provided funding for the week-long training seminar that ended with the visit by top officials Friday.

Ana Helena Chacón, vice minister of security, spoke of the new strategies as ways of cleaning up Costa Rican tourism. The program is a collaborative effort devised to detect and capture the people responsible for sexually abusing children, at least as far as those who exploit youngsters commercially.

The board of panelists discussed the major components of the intricate plan, which seemed to target foreign tourists as the sole 

perpetrators of the abuse. The emphasis primarily is on child prostitution.

The Policía de Transito has called on taxi drivers to become the eyes and ears of their investigative efforts by serving as informants. Whenever a driver encounters a tourist inquiring about sex with a minor, he or she is required to immediately report the information to the police, said Javier Chavez, minister of Obras Públicas y Transporte.

Likewise, taxi drivers caught helping tourists acquire child prostitutes will have their licenses revoked, said Chavez.

Hotels discovered as being used as brothels for sex with a minor will be closed down. Massage parlors, that are known to employ under-agers, were also targeted. Under the plan, no business licenses for this type of operation will be issued.

An official of Migración y Extranjería cited the creation of a blacklist that will be distributed to border agents. The list contains the names of individuals suspected of sexual abuse.

Bruce Harris, president of Casa Aliazana, the child advocacy group, has provided a list of about 60 names he said has been compiled from FBI information and private sources.

The list also includes individuals suspected of (not convicted of) sexual abuse. According to the official, anyone who is on this list will not be permitted to enter this country.

The blacklist and the effort to enroll taxi drivers has been reported in the past. However, the comments by Minister Gil for the first time spotlighted legal prostitution as a major factor in child prostitution, a connection officials tend to avoid.

Gringo factor in sex abuse avoids reality
By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica

When officials talk about sexual exploitation of children, they point the finger at North Americans and tourists, thereby simplifying the problem beyond solution.

An editorial

Sexual exploitation of children here is not a North America problem.  The overwhelming numbers of exploited children are molested within their own families or with the full support of close family members.

Plus officials overlook the pervasive nature of drug addiction that turns youngsters into willing participants in whatever sort of depravity generates cash for crack. The girls standing on the corner of Avenida 2 and Calle 11 are there to earn money for drugs by whatever way possible.

And Rosalia Gil, the minister for children (above), is correct when she recognizes that legal prostitution supports child prostitution. But hardly anyone, least of all the tourism officials, wants to eliminate adult prostitution.

The main emphasis on sexual exploitation seems to be directed at the North Americans who would molest children. The new initiatives target tourists. These people should be targeted, but not at the expense of officials giving themselves big pats on the back for doing very little.

If you look at the Diario Extra Web site, there is but one ad in English: "Protecting children and adolescents against sexual exploitation." Now why would a Spanish-language newspaper publish an ad in English? The answer: The ad is placed by the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo. Cleverly, the instituto suggests to Ticos that the problem is predatory foreigners.

Here some of the biggest exploiters of children outside of their own family are policemen. President Abel Pacheco admitted this in a talk three months ago when he promised to crack down on offenders. We haven’t seen any arrests yet, but we hear stories of policemen forcing themselves on children on the street or even in the police station.

Gonzalo Antonio Quinones Ulloa
has been sought for two years as a suspect in 
a child-related sex offense in Florida.
(F.B.I. photo)
Costa Rica has a very difficult time handling exploitation suspects who are Costa Rican. One individual, Gonzalo Antonio Quinones Ulloa, has been sought by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation since October 2000. He faces a mail fraud charge but also a charge of failure to appear to respond to a count of committing a lewd and lascivious act on a minor in Florida.

One would think that Costa Rica police would be able to find this man. He is believed to have been here since late 2000. We bet they haven’t even looked. Of course, they wouldn’t extradite him even if they did find him. After all, he is Costa Rican. But shouldn’t someone check to see if he is around children?

Both Casa Alianza  and ECPAT  are organizations interested in the well-being of children. Casa Alianza is quick to send out a news release when a North American goes to trial for illegal sexual conduct with children. We have yet to see a press release on a Costa Rican.

The social agencies cast child molestation as "the commercial exploitation of children."  No money, no commercial exploitation. Yet the bulk of the exploitation is not bought and paid for. It is no less harmful.

We have nothing but respect for these private social agencies, and we can recognize their frustration in providing training, providing equipment and then failing to see any progress. But we also believe it is unfair to target foreigners when the bulk of the exploitation is intensely local.

By the way, if you know where Quinones is, contact the FBI.

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Threat made to hurt tourism if freeze continues
By the A.M. Costa Rica

Someone with an interest in the Villalobos investment operation is threatening to blacken the name of Costa Rica internationally unless the freeze on the company funds is lifted.

Merchants of businesses at least in downtown San José got a copy of the letter over the last few days.

The letter threatens that the sender would place ads in international travel publications, including newspapers, telling people not to visit Costa Rica.

The letter, distributed mainly to people who run tourist-related businesses, tells them of the plan and seeks their influence in encouraging Costa Rican officials to shorten the investigation of Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho, the Ofinter money exchange house and some 30 or so corporations operated by the Villalobos.

The letter was in strongly idiomatic English and probably was not anything that the Villalobos brothers or their agents would send. Likely senders are some North Americans who lost control of their money when Villalobos closed up his business Oct. 14.

The letter clearly is an effort to force Costa Rican officials to terminate the investigation of the 

Villalobos operation in order not to lose tourism money. A draft of the letter is believed to have circulated in some Internet discussion lists.

The letter seems to go several steps beyond what other investors have been saying. The letter does not address the question of whether Villalobos has violated any laws. It simply wants the investigation terminated and money made available for investors.

Costa Rican officials have frozen at least $6 million in about 50 bank accounts used by the investment firm. The bulk of the money is not believed to be inside Costa Rica, if it exists. Investors may have as much as $1 billion in exposure due to personal loans they made to Enrique Villalobos.

The letter said that the sender would make North Americans and others involved with international tourism aware of street crimes and other incidents that have taken place here that might cause tourists to go elsewhere.

A reporter obtained a look Friday at a copy in the hands of an employee at a large hotel downtown.

Villalobos is under investigation because officials think that some of his financial activities are suspicious. A freeze on the bank accounts is due to expire Nov. 26 but likely will be extended.

Bibliography of news articles on Villalobos case
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Since July 5, A.M. Costa Rica published 47 articles about Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho, his investment buisness and related issues.

Some of the related stories were about international efforts to make money transfers more transparent to regulators. In one case, an Illinois political fixer was an investor with the Villalobos operation. Another article was about the financial troubles of a money exchange house in Excazú.

This newspaper published a number of letters defending, vilifying and otherwise commenting on Villalobos.

So we here list the stories that have been done so far for the benefit of new and long-time readers.

July 5
1. Money exchanges raided

July 8
2. North American investors hold their breaths

July 9
3. Investment firm says it will continue to pay

July 10
4. Bank account lock may endure for some time

July 11
5. Some expats starting to get mad about fund freeze

July 12
6. Money exchange firm goes on offensive with ad

July 15
7. Case of 'The Brothers' firm draws many letters

July 17
8. Investment firm operating normally, letter says

July 18
9. Joint operation targets illegal transfers of money

10. New rules make banks check up on new clients

July 19
11. Villalobos expects freeze will be lifted on July 26

12. Long-time investor analyzes returns and other letters

July 26
13. New money-laundering strategy specifies targets

Sept. 5
14. Escazú 'bank' for expats (Vinir) chooses bankruptcy

Sept. 19
15. Villalobos suggests that some good news is coming

Sept. 20
16. New task force targets money laundering, terror

Oct. 2
17. Some investors happy with Villalobos changes

Oct. 7
18. What's important and what's not: A survey of news events that will really matter

Oct. 11
19. Investors beginning to get testy over interest

Oct. 14
20. Villalobos suspends operations

Oct. 15
21. Villalobos says he can't make payments

22. Villalobos issues statement to his creditors

23. Investors downtown show range of emotions

Oct. 16
24. Forget the interest, and try to get the capital: An analysis

Letter: Villalobos victim of political agendas, says reader

Oct. 17
25. Other nations may eye Villalobos accounts


More letters on Villalobos are

Oct. 18
26. Lawyers, investor and a chiropractor offering help


Oct. 21
27. Villalobos said he feared a second office raid


Oct. 22
28. Investors joining together for long court fight


Oct. 23
29. Canadian Embassy not included in Villalobos loop

Oct. 25
30. Recovery center set up for Villalobos investors


Oct. 28
31. Villalobos turnout fills room and then some


Oct. 30
32. Hard questions send shivers through crowd

33. The worst may be yet to come, investors told


Nov. 1
34. Villalobos reported to be in meeting, but where?

35. Editorial: Time for us to pull together


Nov. 4
36. Everyone sought info on the Villalobos case

Nov. 5
37. Illinois bribery figure posted money loaned here

38. Villalobos money exchange business reopens under new ownership

Nov. 6
39. Straw poll shows Ticos unaware of Villalobos crisis


Nov. 7
40. A saint tailor made for the Villalobos crisis

Nov. 8
41. Rumor, rumor whose got the rumor?


Nov. 11
42. Recovering cash assets is a difficult chore at best

Nov. 13
43. Impact of Villalobos default still hard to estimate


Nov. 14
44. Asset expert says that government help is vital


Nov. 15
Letter: ‘Don’t leave us to wither away. . .'

45. Search order sheds more light on investigations


Nov. 18
The news articles you see today will be listed here tomorrrow.

Inspection station
shut down in Alajuela

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Officials closed down a vehicle inspection station Friday because they believe evidence exists that corruption was rampant there.

The station was the one operated by Riteve S y C at El Coyol in Alajuela.

Individuals at the inspection station were selling certificates that said a vehicle has passed the inspection process when it did not. The action was taken by the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transporte which has authority over the private inspection company.

The inspection set up has been controversial because Riteve has a government-enforced monopoly on inspection. The monopoly was designed, in part, to prevent corruption and to insure even-handed inspection of vehicles. There was no word when the station would open again.

Officials said they believed that the tainted inspection certificates could be had for 45,000 colons, about $120. 

Woman dies in Pavas;
Ex-boyfriend arrested

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

 A 31-year-old woman died Friday night in a shooting in Pavas in front of the María Rayna church. Police arrested an ex-boyfriend.

A second man who was not identified suffered a bullet wound to the hand, said police.

Police identified the woman by the last name of Bermúdez. She suffered a wound to the head. A man with the last name of Baltodano Suares was held to face investigation.

Early morning shakes
result of two quakes

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two earthquakes rattled central Costa Rica in the early morning hours of Sunday.

The first, about 2:15 a.m. was a short, sharp shock believed located near San Isidro de Heredia. The magnitude was about 3.5, said Costa Rican officials. The second, about two hours later, was stronger,. about 4.4, but the location was along the south Pacific coast. Both were too small to make international listings.

The rains are back
due to cold front

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Only the central Pacific will be spared heavy rains today, according to the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional.

The weather experts said that a cold front has moved south and is bringing rains and strong winds from the Caribbean coast to Guanacaste. These are the same strong winds that usher in the dry season here, but they are having the opposite effect now due to collisions with moist tropical air.

The rainy condition is expected to last for several days.


Policeman killed

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Germán Alfaro Rojas, a member of the Fuerza Pública on patrol south of Limón, suffered a knife wound in the early minutes of Saturday and died later at a hospital.

The wound severed an artery, said police. the man was patrolling on a motorcycle on the main coastal highway near La Bomba.
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One final helping of Hannibal rounds out the menu
By Garett Sloane
Of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The cannibal, Hannibal, returns in “Red Dragon” the third film based on Thomas Harris’ novels about serial killers. 

The movie opens with the arrest of Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) that was never before seen. Will Graham (Edward Norton), the agent, who uses Dr. Lecter’s psychological advice to track a looming serial killer, discover that the killer is Hannibal?

There was no problem with Hopkins playing a Hannibal Lecter almost 20 years younger than the Lecter of the last movie, “Hannibal.” The makeup was convincing enough to make an even older Hopkins appear to be a younger Lecter. 

Baby-faced Edward Norton does not seem like the best choice to play rival to Hopkins’ Lecter, but he plays the part with surprising authority. 

Graham needs Hannibal’s help later in the movie to trace another serial killer who is murdering entire families. This is where the movie has a plot line similar to the first, “Silence of the Lambs.” 

Hannibal plays most of his part as a consultant in a jail cell, but without much use of the once creepy facemask he wears to protect people from his bite. Of course, that trick has gotten a little old and does not inspire as much fear as it did in the first movie. 

The relationship between Lecter and Graham is much different than the sexually tense relationship between him and Clarice Starling, the agent in the other two stories played by Jodie Foster and Julianne Moore

Hannibal is vengeful toward his captor Graham, and they are very much like Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty. They have similar minds as the movie constantly stresses. Graham’s demon is that he has the ability to think like the Lecters of the world, which means he may even have the mind of a serial killer.

Never accept a dinner invite from this man.

But far scarier than Graham’s demons and Hannibal’s eating habits is the serial killer they seek. Francis Dolarhyde (Ralph Fiennes) may perpetrate the most horrific crimes ever in the movies. The crimes are too eerie and uncomfortable to describe.

Brett Ratner, the director, may have felt the same way considering these crimes were never actually shown except in rapid flashbacks and crime scene photos. Let it be said that even these flashes of the crimes were enough to unsettle one’s mind and disturb a night’s rest.

Dolarhyde is inspired to kill by the William Blake painting titled “The Great Red Dragon and The Woman Clothed in Sun.” The killer has a terrifying body-sized tattoo of the Blake image on his back.

As far as serial killer movies go, this is one of the best. Even the cliché moments like the killer keeping a newspaper-clipping scrapbook and the story line about his life in his abusive grandmother’s house, reminiscent of “Psycho,” did not make the movie unoriginal.

“Red Dragon” completes the Hannibal Lecter trilogy perfectly, and it is a great compliment to the other two films.

Also it reaches far more disturbing depths than certainly the last picture “Hannibal” — even if that one featured a man feasting on his own brains.

Power conflict in Caracas over who controls police
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela — The struggle between the government of Hugo Chavez, Venezuelan president, and the opposition mayor of Caracas over control of the capital's police force intensified when National Guard troops used tear gas to prevent the mayor from visiting a police barracks. 

The clash took place Sunday as protesters, banging pots and pans, gathered outside the Mariperez police precinct, yelling 'get out' to army occupiers. Demonstrations were also held at other police stations around the city guarded by hundreds of National Guard troops backed by armored personnel vehicles.

Alfredo Pena, Caracas mayor and fierce Chavez opponent, and other local officials led the protest. Pena charged the president with violating the country's constitution and called the police takeover an "internal coup." 

Chavez claimed Saturday's takeover was necessary to prevent anarchy in the wake of a strike by some police officers. He also said that it was temporary, but gave no timetable for ending it.

Chavez has been trying to gain control of the metropolitan police force ever since Pena, ironically a former political ally, became the first-ever elected mayor of the capital more than two years ago. The Supreme Court ruled then that the right to appoint the police director belonged to Pena, not Chavez. 

For the past year, however, Venezuela has been embroiled in a serious political crisis. And control of the 9,000-strong metropolitan police has become ever more important, both to the government and the opposition. 

In April, when a frustrated coup briefly ousted the president, there were accusations that the police deliberately opened fire on government supporters, leading to a firefight in which 19 people died. 

The opposition, however, says it was Chavez's followers who started the gun battle. 

Pro-Chavez demonstrators, along with members of congress from Chavez's party, backed a strike by a minority of police personnel that began in October. For Pena and the rest of the opposition, the strike was an excuse to take over the police force. And when it led to violence, and more deaths on the street last week, the intervention was not long in coming. 

The mayor says he refuses to recognize the government-appointed police chief. So, apparently, do many police men and women. The army and the National Guard have been sent in to try to persuade them to switch allegiances. 

The police crisis will be a major issue in negotiations between the government and the opposition over the future of the controversial Chavez government, chaired by the secretary-general of the Organization of American States. 

More Villalobos Letters
One guy is leery of IRCCR

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

In my opinion, nobody who pays the Investment Recovery Center Costa Rica (IRCCR) for help in recovering his Villalobos investment has both oars in the water. IRCCR is offering its help for $1,250 in legal and notary’s fees, $100 in filing fees, and 5% of any recovery.  But the Victims Assistance center, an adjunct of the Prosecutor's Office, offers free assistance and no filing fees.

So the up-front charges of IRCCR go mainly into lawyers' pockets for no necessary service.  Still, there are some who (because they are not comfortable dealing with a strange bureaucracy or to whom the offices are not within easy reach), wishing to follow the program suggested by IRCCR and the Victims Assistance office, might think hiring IRCCR is the way to go.

For them, it may be, IF the program is a good idea in the first place. It isn't. Either there is around a billion dollars out there, or there is not. If it is out there, then either Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho (LEVC) intends to meet his obligations, or he does not.

The only Villalobos money known to be in Costa Rica amounts to $6 or $7 million in frozen accounts. If there's a billion dollars out there, the amount in Costa Rica is only six or seven tenths of one percent of the potential recovery. Take for example an investment of $200,000.  You get $1,200 or $1,400 (less 5%) for your $1,350 up front outlay.

Of course, to the extent that there are creditors who don't present claims in court (through IRCCR or otherwise), some might argue that the whole $6 to 7 mil should be divvied up amongst the filing claimants — if there is to be a court-administered divvy-up, which it is not certain there will be; but even then one might expect publication of some official notice to give all investors the opportunity to come forward. Still, if everyone hired IRCCR, 5% of $6 or $7 million is $300,000 or$350,000 — not a bad nest egg for your average Tico lawyer.  That's the way class actions usually work — a pittance to the injured parties, the lion's share to the lawyers.

But if there's a billion dollars out there, and LEVC intends to pay, then you don't need IRCCR's assistance, and if you hire them they're going to get 5% off the top of what LEVC eventually pays you:  Very big bucks for — what? Nothing.

On the other hand, if LEVC has the money and doesn't intend to pay, IRCCR won't be of any use beyond the pitiful court-administered divvy (if it comes to pass) for which their services aren't needed. Fear and greed:  Two very powerful motivators. One or the other (or both) is what drives all scams.  If LEVC's business was a scam, it was greed that drove investors into it. The IRCCR deal is no scam, but it is driven by fear. Fear of loss, fear of being left out if you don't file court papers, fear of the USIRS.

If I were LEVC, and honest, I would say this to my investors:  "Yes, I have your money safely conserved, and as soon as the government gets out of my way I will start paying off.  But for those who have sued me, there will be complications and delays because legal actions will need to be dropped and the funds will have to be channeled through the lawyers and the courts.  Meantime, I will be paying first those who have trusted me, not because I like them better, but because they are the only ones I can safely pay without the law's delays.

"If a court-administered divvy of $6 to 7 million is to be conducted without formal notice to all creditors, it will be like a pari-mutuel betting system:  The more bets placed on the court, the less favorable the odds for the winners. This is where fear can grab you:  If you don't act now, someone else will get your share of that $6 to 7 million payoff. But betting on the courts is betting against LEVC and could cost you dearly in delays in getting your real money back.

Given the $6 to 7 million and $1 billion figures, I make the break-even odds at about 1 in 17 for a $200,000 investor. That is, if there's a 5.28% or better chance that LEVC is honest, your better bet is on him.  Because of the front-end load on the IRCCR option, the odds are a little less favorable for larger investments, a little better for smaller ones. You need to be pretty darn sure he's crooked before you bet against LEVC.


Bryant Smith,
Playa Palo Seco de Parrita
Two things don't jibe for a reader

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I watched my friends collect the high return of interest for years. It seemed too good to be true and I never took the plunge. When I was in business it was necessary to borrow money from a bank for years. At last I was able to get enough capital together to stop borrowing and work with my own money.

Two things have always been in my mind.

1. Why did the Brothers keep paying such high interest when a CD in a USA bank is only paying about 4% per year? I believe they could have gotten plenty of clients at 2% per month or less.

2.  After so many years what is the need of borrowed funds?

Marcos Suggs
A Villalobos blessing

Don Enrique:

A long time ago I put my trust in the Lord, and He has never disappointed me. My trust is still in the Lord and I know He will do the right thing for you and your friends. These are times of trial and tribulation, but your many friends are not like Job's comforters. We support you with our daily prayers. I know you (and we) will come out of this victoriously. God is faithful.

Leny Dolstra
Where are the associations?

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Eight years ago, we opened Posada Mimosa, our bed and breakfast in Rincon de Salas near Grecia. We invested our hard-earned money developing our property into an extraordinarily beautiful place. Over the years, we have had thousands of guests who, without exception, leave happy and come back for return visits.

We believe we are the true ambassadors of tourism in this country. We are in the forefront and the first contact for tourists visiting Costa Rica for the first time. They gain their impressions of this country through us not the government tourism bureaucrats.

Tourists support local restaurants, taxis, gift shops, grocery stores etc. We small businesses receive zero support from the government who prefer to put their dollars into mega-hotels on the beaches who pay little back into the economy.

We pay municipal taxes, sales taxes, real estate taxes, water taxes, pay hefty social insurance and health care taxes for our employees, have employed most of this village in building our property (with our own capital). The incredible obstacles we had to face to reach our ends would have put off many an investor.  If, because of the Villalobos fiasco, many small businesses have to close their doors, what would be the repercussions? What about their employees? Who is going to pay their health care, aguinaldos etc. if they cannot find jobs?

And finally why has there been no outcry from the many associations, clubs and business organizations e.g. chambers of commerce, Newcomers Club, Women's Club, Rotary Club, Lions Club, Canadian Association, Democrats Abroad, Republicans Abroad etc. etc. The silence is deafening. 

After all, they will be affected as much as anybody else. Nobody will escape unscathed if the Villalobos situation is not resolved immediately. Most importantly, Mr. Villalobos himself or his spokesperson must come forward and let us know what is going on otherwise his strong support will start to erode.

Tessa Borner,

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