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These stories were published Friday, Nov. 29, 2002, in Vol. 2, No. 237
Jo Stuart
About us

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Young, thin Santa will pose for a photo with a child on the Avenida Central boulevard.

Responsibility comes
with the Santa clause

By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica

OK, it’s a third-world country. But that’s no reason to have underdeveloped Santas strolling about.

Everybody has to make a living, but old guys work hard to put on some extra girth around the middle and come forth with a hearty "Ho! Ho! HO!"

Now when one sees a 22-year-old Santa flaca with an obvious pillow stuck under the belt, one wishes for like a Teamster’s Union for Santas or some organization that could enforce some firm rules:

1. Santa really should be an older man. Kids need not apply. (A kid is anyone under 40).

2. The fat ought to be real. There are few areas where fat men are valued. So let’s reserve the Santa seat for a chubby.

3. The beard ought to fit. If the older, fat guy has enough lead time, the beard should be real. After all, we all know when Christmas is coming. Failing a real beard, let’s have a little cosmetic work instead of stuffing cotton around the mouth.

4. The role of Santa Claus is one of the most important in the life of any child. Presidents come and go. But a dumb Santa can warp a kid for life. So Santa better be sharp.

5. And finally, the Santa better realize he is the REAL Santa, and for a brief moment he holds the great power of that fat, jolly old elf. Wisdom is demanded.

Hanukkah holiday
starting tonight

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah begins tonight at sundown. Jews across the world will light the first of eight candles, the most significant part of the holiday ritual.

The Festival of Lights, as Hanukkah is also known, is a celebration of the liberation of Israel from the Syrians over 2,000 years ago. 

When the Jews restored their temple, they had enough oil to light the eternal flame for one day, but the flame lasted eight days.

Hanukkah is an eight-night celebration when gifts are exchanged, songs are sung and games are played.

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

Even Paradise Has its Problems

I was talking with my new friend, Willa. We were sitting in her car which was gridlocked with other cars somewhere near the toll booth on the autopista. Willa was talking through a white doctor’s mask. I was talking from behind my hand. 

Both of us were trying not to breathe in too much of the fumes from the cars. Her Tico driver, Olman, seemed immune. Willa is terrified of driving in the city, so she hires Olman to drive her places. He is one of those rare drivers who doesn’t think his passengers must lurch at every turn and stop to appreciate his driving.

The subject of our conversation was life in Costa Rica, which also included how to understand Ticos. We were in agreement that it was the duty of expats in whatever country they had chosen to learn to adapt to the customs of that country. We also agreed that wasn’t always easy to do. It is my contention that because Costa Ricans look a lot like Americans (many of both of our ancestors come from Europe), we make the erroneous assumption that they think and act like us. That is where the trouble begins. 

Some people will argue that in the final analysis, we are all alike, world over, because people want the same thing: love, security, understanding, peace, etc., the really important things in life. My response is: Perhaps, but the routes we take to get what we want are often very different, and this can be what causes misunderstandings and hostility. It is the journey we must pay attention to.

Willa’s comment that living in Costa Rica was very stressful surprised me. It is the last adjective I would use describing life here in peaceful Costa Rica. Then she pointed out that peaceful is not necessarily synonymous with quiet. The noise level here is far greater than that in the States. That, I admitted, is true. If it is not the barking dogs, its the car alarm that goes on all night, And if not the alarm, it is the booming music. And in San Jose, the street venders are calling out their wares over the honking horns and other traffic noises. 

I won’t even go into the noises in the country. I am getting used to it. But we both have earplugs. 

Willa was lamenting the fact that she no longer can tell whether the person she is dealing with is being helpful and sincere or setting her up. Willa builds houses. My solution to many possible pitfalls is to own nothing and to not carry on a complicated business. She has also been through the classical experience of having someone not call to confirm a tentative meeting as agreed upon. Then have the person simply show up. When she gently reprimanded him, he didn’t respond by apologizing (as expected in the States); he just seemed hurt, or maybe insulted. She couldn’t be sure. 

I told her about the couple (the story was told to me first hand) who invited a Costa Rican couple to dinner at 7 on Friday night. They, of course, were ready by 7 but their guests did not arrive. By 9 p.m. they still had not arrived nor had they called, so the would-be hosts decided to eat. The next evening, they were eating the leftovers when their doorbell rang. It was the Tico couple with a mother-in-law in tow. 

"Oh, dear," said the hostess. "Our invitation was for last night." 

"We know," replied the Tico guest, "But my mother arrived unexpectedly last night and we couldn’t make it. So we decided to come tonight, and bring her!" (like wasn’t that a good idea!)  The American hosts, needless to say, were nonplussed.

We both finally agreed that an important thing to remember (especially as you are saying to yourself for the 10th time "That doesn’t make sense.") is that there is logic and there is logic. Not everybody comes to the same conclusion by the same steps. And the cultures that have a different logic from your culture, have managed to exist just as long.

We also agreed that in spite of everything, this Thanksgiving we were thankful to be here. 

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Soldiers never die (sometimes they marry)
By Bob Foster
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The following story has been published in the author’s own words.

In a surprise ceremony to everyone present except the bride, groom and Lic. Sergio Sanchez, renowned leprechaun, gordo Robert Emerson FOSTER and Jean Ellen LEHOTAY were united in holy wedlock at the November 12th meeting of San Jose Post 11207, Veterans of Foreign Wars in the Bufo Dorado Room of the Gran Hotel de Costa Rica.

Serving in “loco parentis” status, the bride was given away by Mr. Manuel Delgado, an Army veteran retired here from Boeing Aerospace; while best-man duties were performed by Navy Aviation veteran B.D. “Andy” Anderson, a retired Eastern Airlines aircraft repair manager and long-time Costa Rica residente. In lieu of a post-ceremony reception, Mister Foster made a cash contribution to Post 11207's general fund.

Bob Foster is a decorated officer who retired from the Regular Army after serving in a variety of 

senior NCO and officer positions with the U.S. Special Forces and other parachute and intelligence units. 

He is probably best known in Costa Rica for his tenure as Commander of the American Legion several years ago, when the Legion was in it's heyday, a wonderful place to visit, and was listed in many guidebooks as a “must see” location.

Jean Foster (nee LEHOTAY [it's Hungarian]) grew up in Orlando, Florida, the eldest daughter of an engineer at Lockheed-Martin. Her widowed mother and several siblings still reside in the Orlando area. She is a Property Management Specialist, now looking forward to a career as an “ama de casa” in Costa Rica.

Bob and Jean own a house in the area just north of “El Triangulo” in Rohrmoser, and will continue to make their home there.  Congratulatory cards may be mailed to their address at Apartado 1531, Escazu 1250, Costa Rica.

May God be with you, best wishes and mazeltov to you both for a long and happy life together!

Savings Unlimited under the microscope
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

On the sixth day after Savings Unlimited closed and on the fourth day after the collapse of the company became headlines, investigators staged a surprise, simultaneous raid on facilities associated with company boss Louis Milanes.

Meanwhile, in the second case involving millions of dollars in investor money, the Juzgado Penal de San José ordered six months of pretrial detention for Oswaldo Villalobos Camacho, one of the brothers in the investment firm called informally by that name.

All over the world, investors are slowly becoming resigned to the fact that any resolution of either case will take a long time.

The situation with Savings Unlimited seems to be one where company officials simply took investor money and left town. An e-mail believed to have come from an employee of the company said as much Monday.

However, company officials probably would have acted the same if the firm’s financing simply collapsed, and no charges have been leveled against Milanes or company executives who are believed to have left with him Friday or Saturday. It is not known if company manager Michael Gonzalez of Sabana Sur was among them. He was the most visible of the contacts for the heavily North American clientele who deposited upwards of $150 million over a period of five to seven years.  There were believed to be about 2,600 investors. They received monthly interest in the 3 to 4 percent range.

The searches of Milanes properties Thursday, including his Escazú home,  confirms that police have opened an investigation. Also among the places searched was the Ascia distributing firm in Calle Blanco. That company which deals in toys and alcohol is said to be operated by the financier’s brother José.

But both Milanes and the Villalobos brothers have extensive numbers of corporations and organizations that make tracking ownership difficult if not impossible. The manager of three casinos associated with Milanes said earlier this week he did not know who actually owned the facilities. The casinos are the Royal Dutch on Avenida 2, the Casino Tropical in the Hotel Morazan on Avenida 1 at Calle 7 and the Casino Europa in the Raddison Hotel in north San José.

Judicial agents took Oswaldo Villalobos into custody Wednesday, but he was not ordered held in pretrial custody until Thursday morning after he had spent a night in the Guadalupe detention facilities. A spokesperson for the Poder Judicial 

revealed Thursday that Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho also had been summoned to appear Wednesday for a deposition, but he did not show up.

A  judge and a prosecutor were discussing that case late Thursday because the prosecutor was seeking a capture order, more or less an arrest warrant, against Enrique Villalobos.

Oswaldo ran the money exchange house Ofinter S.A., and Enrique was the main contact for the estimated 6,300 investors, mostly North American, who may have up to $1 billion invested with him. Enrique styled himself as an independent businessman, but the investigation showed he maintained a complex web of corporations, all of which were not in his name.

Prosecutors said that they were holding Oswaldo to face a charge of fraud and of serving illegally as a financial intermediary. Ofinter is licensed to change money. The charge of being an intermediary would seem to relate to the brothers’ business of accepting money from investors and then paying up to 3 percent interest each month.

The interest from Villalobos has been cut off for nearly three months. Investors are feeling the pinch. One who said he had $2.2 million invested with Villalobos faxed documents from his Florida home to a reporter Thursday.

The documents showed that the man had lost his automobile and had reached agreement to move out of his rented home by the middle of December. He said by telephone the money with Villalobos was all that he had.

Similar stories of personal financial tragedy abound, and more and more foreign residents report they are out of money and relying on the generosity of others.

A spokesman for the Investment Recovery Center said that business has been picking up in the last few days. The firm formed to help Villalobos investors recover their funds. 

Although no announcement has been made, some investors with Savings Unlimited probably will be contacting the office of the victim’s advocate in the Judicial Investigating Organization in order to stake a claim to any money recovered when and if Milanes and his associates are found.

Villalobos never said what he did with investor money to generate a substantial return. Milanes, on the other hand, told investors that the money would be used in the expansion of his casino business. Now it is unclear if a legal link existed between Savings Unlimited and the casinos, which are in rented quarters.

Barracudas are lurking but not on the local menus
By Bryan Kay
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Have you seen barracuda?

With razor sharp teeth, and a bite that would send shivers up a shark’s spine, the barracuda is a lethal weapon in the beautiful Pacific Ocean’s armory.

Just off the coast of Manuel Antonio, a small, but thriving community of barracudas can be found riding the uncompromising rip tides so renowned in this part of Costa Rica.

They are curious creatures, often likened to the Piranha, though this probably has more to do with their identical ability to tear apart anything that may fall within their focus than anything else.

Underestimate them to your peril, as one fisherman, who works in the Manuel Antonio area, testifies. 

Paulino Morales Diaz reminisced about the times his colleagues incurred bites, cuts and slices at the mercy of Barracudas’ razor-sharp teeth. Laughing, he said he himself has never sustained an injury from these barracudas he earns his living from.

But they’re good to eat, according to some. Then again, others say barracudas are tasteless.

After a lengthy trawl of San José seafood restaurants and a consultation with Carlos Campos Fumero, an El Pueblo restaurant owner, who said that Costa Ricans don’t rate barracuda too highly, it has been assumed barracuda is not to be had, at least here in San José.

Fishing enthusiasts contacted in San José advised 

Courtesy of Snap-shot.com/Donovan Gutierrez
Barracudas looking for a light lunch.

that barracuda is hard to catch in the Pacific. They say more luck is to be had in the Caribbean, 
particularly around the Belize area. And probably more cuts.

So it seems that Morales and his colleagues are scraping around for whatever they can find, whatever that may be.

Sometimes mackerel, sometimes barracuda . . . most of the time, anything. After scrawling the depths for 4 hours a day, 6 days a week in their tiny boats, Puntarenas — the destination of their catches — must surely be dry.

But what becomes of the barracuda that does arrive?

If anyone has information about a restaurant in San José, or indeed Costa Rica, that offers barracuda write to: bryankay@amcostarica.com

Little Leaguers to play ball here
By Garett Sloane
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Little League Baseball is coming to the San Jose area. Capt. Curt Johnson, veteran and Little League district administrator to Costa Rica, is recruiting volunteers, sponsors and children to join the league.

Johnson has been involved with Little League Baseball for more than 12 years, and has organized teams in the Limon area for more than two years. 

Johnson said he has helped launch the career of a player who is with the Atlanta Braves, a player he coached from the age of 9. He said he wants to find young talent here. Johnson is recruiting American children and Tico children from the ages of 9-16.

He said he sees a lot of initiative and interest from the Tico community, although baseball is not as popular here as it is in neighboring countries. Johnson wants to change that.

The veteran said the program he is looking to 

install is to spread baseball awareness, and allow the children to have fun.

As of now the new Little League district has one sponsor, and enough equipment to supply two teams. Johnson is hoping to win over more sponsors.

To sponsor a team it costs about $1,800, he said, but the team may represent the sponsor in a national or international event. For children to play the cost is free as Little League Baseball has a policy whereby no person can be left out, because of a lack of money.

Johnson said he is heavily recruiting from the Country Day School and the Lincoln School. He said he also wants parents or anyone interested to volunteer to umpire and coach. 

Johnson said he hoped that by mid-December he will have enough volunteers and infrastructure supplied by sponsors to let the children play ball.

Any person interested in helping or sponsoring can call Capt. Curt Johnson at 289-6196 or e-mail him at captcurt@costarz.net.

Scots to celebrate St. Andrew's Day here
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A speech prepared by Jack McConnell, first minister for Scotland, and Helen Liddell, secretary of state for Scotland, will be read out at the St. Andrew’s Day celebration being held at the residence of Georgina Butler, British ambassador to Costa Rica, Saturday.

In it, the pair talk of Scottish achievement, traditions and history. They speak of a Scotland and ethnicity that has reached out to the world, with many of its people having settled in many nations.

“St Andrew’s Day is the day when Scots — and friends of Scotland — around the world celebrate the achievements of the country of their birth and of their forefathers. It is a day to be proud of the traditions, the culture and the contribution that Scotland and its people have brought to the world over hundreds of years,” they said. 

The speech will be read out at St. Andrew’s Day celebrations all over the world, including events organized by British embassies and consulates.

St. Andrew’s Day, which is Nov. 30, is the Scottish equivalent of the Irish’s St. Patrick’s Day. St. Andrew’s Day isn’t celebrated to the same magnitude as St. Patrick’s Day.

However the Scottish Executive, headed by McConnell, is trying to raise its profile. At the moment it is celebrated more by expats in their foreign lands, than in Scotland itself.

There is a growing movement in Scotland that is trying to raise awareness and spirits for St. Andrew’s Day. Supporters are also campaigning for the day to become a national holiday.

The embassy here will host its St. Andrew’s Night Ball Saturday at Ambassador Butler’s residence in Escazú.

Canada, Australia close
embassies in Philippines

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MANILA, Philippines — Canada and Australia closed their Philippine embassies Thursday as intelligence reports offer revelations of planned terror attacks.

Alexander Downer, Australia's foreign minister, says the intelligence reports warning of terror attacks by Muslim extremists on his country's embassy could not have been more explicit.

"On reading the report, it is a very specific report," he says. "It's not only location specific that is targeting the Australian Embassy itself, it is also time specific we're talking here of over the next few days."

The American Embassy in Manila was closed Thursday for Thanksgiving holiday but is set to reopen Friday. Both the Canadian and Australian embassies will remain shut with staff providing consular services from a nearby hotel.

The report was in part based on information gathered by Philippine officials.

A number of terrorist groups operate in the Philippines, including the Abu Sayyaf, which Washington links to Al Qaida. Philippine officials say local Muslim militants have trained with members of the Jemaah Islamiyah and Al Qaida terror networks.

Medical snags delay
twins’ return home

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

LOS ANGELES, Calif. — U.S. doctors who separated twin sisters born joined at the head say complications from the operation will delay the girls' return to their native Guatemala.

Doctors at the University of California at Los Angeles medical center say one of the 16-month-old twins has suffered some loss of hearing while the other has an unhealed surgical incision in her scalp.

Maria Teresa and Maria de Jesus Alvarez were separated in a marathon operation August 6. 

Doctors say they believe the twins are healthy enough to return home now, but would rather wait until the girls heal completely before releasing them.

The twins were born in a rural Guatemalan village in July of 2001. Doctors donated their time to separate the twins, and the hospital has absorbed the estimated $1.5 million cost of their care.

U.S. refugee program
favors Cuba, Colombia

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Cuban and Colombian refugees dominate the U.S. entry program for Latin America and Caribbean countries, according to a statement from the U.S. Department of State.

Since 1975, over 86,000 refugees from Latin American and Caribbean countries have been offered resettlement in the United States. Over 50,000 have been from Cuba.

All refugee admissions of Cubans are considered a part of the U.S.-Cuba Bilateral Migration Agreement. The agreement provides for the approval of at least 20,000 Cubans for legal admission to the U.S. annually, in a combination of immigrants, parolees, and refugees. 

The majority of Cubans admitted as refugees have been political prisoners or forced labor conscripts, most of whom served sentences in the 1960s and 1970s. The program was expanded in 1991 to include human rights activists, displaced professionals, and others.

The State Department started programs in 2000 to resettle Colombians, particularly vulnerable refugees in Ecuador and Costa Rica.

U.S., Mexico make new
income tax agreement

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MEXICO CITY, México — The United States and Mexico have signed a new protocol that amends an existing bilateral income-tax treaty between the two nations, the U.S. Treasury Department has announced.

In a statement Tuesday, Kenneth Dam, U.S. deputy treasury secretary, said the new protocol "reflects the close economic relationship between our two countries."

The agreement provides significant reductions in taxes on dividends, which Dam said "will further facilitate cross-border trade investment."
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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office: 233-7782 beeper: 233-3333



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Dominicans take hard route to U.S.
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The number of illegal migrants attempting to reach the United States from the Dominican Republic has increased dramatically in the last year, the U.S. Coast Guard says.

A Coast Guard official said that since the start of fiscal year 2002, almost 1,000 illegal migrants from the Dominican Republic were intercepted trying to reach U.S. shores, compared to only 177 such cases in fiscal year 2001.

Just since Nov. 21, the Coast Guard intercepted 172 undocumented migrants, the latest in a steady flow of people trying to reach the United States. Those 172 migrants were all returned to the Dominican Republic.

In fiscal year 2002, 1,486 Haitian and 666 Cuban migrants were intercepted by the Coast Guard. Another 1,608 migrants from Ecuador were also intercepted, the Coast Guard said.

The Coast Guard said in a statement Sunday that the people picked up at sea within the space of a few days brings the total number of intercepted migrants to more than 700 for the month of November. This total includes 441 migrants from the Dominican Republic, 296 Haitians, and 25 Cubans.

"Our cutters and aircraft continue to keep their eyes on the approaches to the U.S. and will continue to patrol and prevent illegal migration,"

said Tony Russell, a spokesman for the Coast Guard's office in Miami.

The Coast Guard said the Dominican Republic has historically been a major point of departure for migrants attempting to reach the United States. Thousands of people have taken to sea in a variety of vessels, the most common a homemade fishing vessel known as a yola. Most of these migrants are smuggled by highly organized gangs.

The Coast Guard warns that illegal migration by sea is very dangerous and often leads to loss of life. In addition, the illegal migrant probably will get caught, and if repatriated, will lose the opportunity to obtain a visa to come to the United States. Also, unscrupulous migrant smugglers are in the business for financial gain and have no interest in the welfare of their human cargo.

The Coast Guard said it will continue to carry out its humanitarian responsibility to prevent the loss of life at sea, since the majority of migrant vessels are dangerously overloaded, un-seaworthy, or otherwise unsafe.

Protection from political persecution and torture are important concerns for the United States, the Coast Guard said. During the course of interdictions at sea, Coast Guard crews may encounter migrants requesting protection.

Two U.S. agencies — the Department of State, and the Immigration and Naturalization Service — have established policies to handle all potential asylum cases on Coast Guard cutters.

Drug smuggling has U.S. landowners up in arms
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

DOUGLAS, Ariz. — In spite of U.S. efforts to crack down on illegal immigration and drug smuggling on the U.S-Mexico border, recent reports from U.S. law enforcement agencies indicate such activity is again on the increase.

There's also been an increase in violent clashes between U.S. agents and Mexican smugglers in the border area. Some property owners on the U.S. side of the border have taken up arms as a result of what they describe as threats to their lives and livelihood. 

Ranchers and landowners along the border in south eastern Arizona, have literally taken up arms to protect themselves from what they call "an invasion." They say illegal immigrants along with drug smugglers have made life dangerous along the boundary line and that the passage of so many people has cost millions of dollars in damage.

But Miguel Escobar, the Mexican consul general in the Arizona border town of Douglas, is concerned that armed vigilantes could create a climate of violence in the area.

There could be far more violence as a result of militia groups stirring up anti-immigrant sentiment," he said. "The inflammatory rhetoric of some groups can lead to nothing good." 

One of the main groups operating on the border is the Ranch Rescue network. Spokesman Jack Foote, says his group is not against immigrants, but is against violation of property rights. Foote says his movement is growing fast.

"We started in June of 2000. We finished our last field mission just last month, in October. In our first field mission, the first day, we had six people," he said.

"This last one, we had 40. We are expecting that for our next mission, we will have over 100. So, we are coming to the border, and we are coming in increasing numbers."

Foote says ranchers have had to take up arms because law enforcement agencies have failed to help them. He says ranchers have suffered damage to fences, buildings, irrigation systems and livestock, and, in some cases, have been physically threatened by intruders.

For this reason, Foote says, property owners have had to take up weapons.

"They are all armed down there. It is just considered an absolute necessity because of the rampant lawlessness that exists in these border county rural areas," he said.

Foote accepts the use of the word "vigilante" to describe his actions, but only in what he calls the "positive sense of the word." He says Ranch Rescue volunteers are defending property and upholding the law, but they are not dispensing justice. He says they sometimes detain people, but they hold them for law enforcement agents.

But Human Rights groups say the vigilantes appeal to racist instincts, and that they encourage violence toward immigrants. The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to hold hearings on the vigilante situation on the border when the new Congress goes into session in January. 

Villalobos Letters
Rochard writes again
(not from Costa Rica)

Dear A.M. Costa Rica,

The latest news about Osvaldo Villalobos being arrested is another severe blow to investors and, if Enrique Villalobos is still out of the country, is unlikely to encourage him to return knowing that he too will probably face a year or more of pre-trial detention.

This letter is, however, not about the Brothers but it is about the rule of law in Costa Rica under the Napoleonic code which marks every accused person guilty until proven innocent and puts every single person there at risk. If any single person files a complaint against another, the accused can be sent to jail for an indefinite period without any proof being presented to substantiate the complaint.

Every expat currently living in Costa Rica needs to be very aware of this rule of law and to know that there is nothing that they can do to protect themselves against it short of leaving the country. If you own a house and your neighbor covets it, all he has to do is file a criminal complaint against you.

You go to court to fight it, end up in pre-trial detention while the prosecutors argue about other matters from years back and within a few months, your house is occupied by squatters who, under the law, soon become the rightful owners.

When some wag said “the law is an ass,” they were, probably, not referring to Costa Rica but, if the cap fits ...

Michael Rochard
Tampa, Florida

P.S.  To all those readers who took offense at my comments on Costa Rica before, you will be pleased to know that we have left the country and won't be coming back.

Brothers inspire
yet another poet

What the Wolf Took
by Al Ferraro 

Our money the Wolf took.
Without any assurance,
How difficult it looked!
Time tested our endurance.

But now we have a chance:
The little one is booked.
We need to take a stance!
Lest our hair be pulled.

Tell mom?
What an occurrence!
Tell thy friends; 
Do not be numb:
We do need to seek concurrence.

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