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(506) 2223-1327        Published Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2008,  in Vol. 8, No. 245       E-mail us
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U.S. citizen detained here faces 450 fraud allegations
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Law officers, acting on a U.S. warrant Tuesday, captured a U.S. citizen wanted to face multiple charges of fraud. The man is suspected of being one of nine persons who ran a series of scams from Costa Rica that collected up to $13 million from customers in the United States.

The products offered for sale ranged from franchises to sell coffee, health insurance and what was called energy products, said investigators.

The call center employees used voice-over-Internet protocol and U.S. mail drops to disguise the fact they were based out of the country, according to the Judicial Investigating Organization. The call center was based in Escazú and later in Office Centro la Sabana.

An agency spokesperson said that the operation had been going on for at least four years and that the suspect arrested Tuesday faced 450 separate cases.

The Judicial Investigating Organization did not give a name, but the suspect is believed to be Jeff Pearson, 36, who has been linked to a number of franchise sales operations here. The man was detained in Santa Ana where he was traveling with bodyguards. Investigators later searched his luxury home in Rohrmoser where they confiscated evidence that will be sent to the United States.

Pearson was last in the news in April 2006 when A.M. Costa Rica reported on a coffee franchise sales deal that used voice-over-Internet protocol and U.S. mail drops.

The firm was Twin Peaks Gourmet Coffee, which was born after the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, the consumer watchdog there, convinced a judge to shut down USA Beverages, which was selling a coffee rack business opportunity using a product under the brand name of Cafe Del Rey. Customers paid from $35,000 to $85,000 to buy the racks for consumer distribution.

The coffee pitch was directed to semi-retired and
retired, particularly those with little business knowledge and the most vulnerable. In fact, the Twin Peaks Web page addressed this market:

"With corporate America downsizing and the stability of Social Security questionable, pension plans are no longer the most secure investment in one's future. The only security you have today is the security you acquire for yourself."

The company found potential customers by placing classified ads in U.S. newspapers.

The Federal Trade Commission obtained a civil default judgment that basically turned over everything USA Beverage owned to the government. When Twin Peaks was reborn a short time later, it used a Web page hosted in England.

Listed as being involved with USA Beverage, in addition to Pearson, were Dilraj Mathauda, Sirtaj Mathauda, David Mead and Silvio Carrano. All are believed to be or have been in Costa Rica.

The Federal Trade Commission estimated that telephone sales brought in $2.5 million to USA Beverages alone.

The civil case was heard in U.S. District Court in Florida's Southern Judicial District. Typically such civil investigations lead to criminal charges in extreme cases.

USA Beverage is one of a number of companies that took advantage of technology to contact potential customers in the United States at reasonable rates. Some of these companies were crooked and sold items they had no intention of delivering. One company sold new computers at a deeply discounted price. But it had no computers. It may still be in business using bilingual Ticos and expats to make sales calls.

USA Beverage did deliver sales racks and other items, but the Federal Trade Commission said the employees misrepresented the potential income from such ventures and violated the U.S. franchise rules.


High labor court rejects bias due to worker's nationality in Santa Ana
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

In a decision that has relevance for expats, the Sala 2 supreme labor court has upheld a lower court decision that a man was fired from his job by the Municipalidad de Santa Ana because of his nationality.

The high court supported the lower court ruling that the man, a Colombian, be reinstated with all back benefits.

The case developed in June 2004. The employee has the last names of Alcalá Segovia, and he worked as a financial administrator for the municipality, according to a summary of the court decision released Tuesday. He was fired because, said the
municipality, he did  not met the expectations of the requirements of the job. The employee claimed he was let go because of his nationality, and there was some testimony supporting this claim.

The Juzgado de Trabajo de Mayor Cuantía del Segundo Circuito Judicial de San José did not find merit in the man's argument, but an appeals court, the Tribunal de Trabajo, Sección Tercera, did. Then the municipality appealed to the nation's highest labor court, part of the Corte Suprema de Justicia. The court said that Costa Rican Constitution, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the American treaty on human rights prohibited discrimination based on nationality.
The man will receive back pay, vacation pay and aguinaldos as well as reinstatement.


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 245

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Two persons kidnapped
while driving in public


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two separate kidnappings took place on the highways last week. One involved a businessman of Israeli descent and the other took place in broad daylight, said the Judicial Investigating Organization.

According to reports, the first case involved a resident of Costa Rica, originally from Israel, who was stopped by a gang of men while driving his car down a public highway in Pavas at 11:45 p.m. Friday. The kidnappers demanded payment in dollars from the man's family, who complied. The man, identified as Fred Kushner, 42, owns and runs a business here. He was released at midnight on Monday in Llano Grande in Cartago.

Although the Organization of Judicial Investigations does not officially release numbers regarding ransoms in kidnapping cases, a source told A.M. Costa Rica that the man's family paid less than what the kidnappers originally demanded. Another source said they paid $15,000.

A factory owner was also kidnapped Dec. 2, when his vehicle was intercepted as he drove down a public highway in Zapote at 3 p.m.

Five kidnap suspects, one Colombian, one Peruvian, one Dominican, one Panamanian, and one Tico, eventually were detained. A kidnapper called the man's family, demanding a ransom of $50,000. That same day, when the suspects arrived at the location where they were supposed to pick up the money, they were detained by judicial agents.

Priest's sentence reduced
in Radio María fraud case


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
 
A court in Heredia has reduced the fraud sentence handed out a year ago to Catholic priest Minor de Jesús Calvo Aguilar. He was the Radio María figure who had been on trial for the murder of commentator Parmenio Medina Pérez.

The decision by the trial court means that Calvo could soon be free because he served more than three years of preventative detention after his arrest at Christmastime 2003. Parole can be granted after a prisoner serves half of the sentence.

The Poder Judicial confirmed the new sentence Tuesday. Calvo was sentenced to 15 years in December 2007 but he was acquitted of the murder charge. He was convicted on fraud.

However on appeal the Sala Tercera high criminal court threw out the sentence and sent the case back to the trial court for a new sentence.

Calvo's associate, businessman Omar Chaves Mora got a total of 47 years for fraud and murder.

Both men ran Radio Maria, which Medina criticized on his own radio show.

A car pulled alongside the radio commentator's sport utility vehicle near his Heredia home and gunned him down July 7, 2001. Prosecutors claimed that the three young men inside were paid to kill Medina. One young man, a a known criminal, also was convicted. But six other persons were acquitted.

Guanacaste tourism chamber
urges responsible actions


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Guanacaste tourism chamber has called upon businessmen involved in such projects to act responsibly and with respect for the environment.

The chamber, the Cámara de Turismo Guanacasteca, also said it supported the Ministerio de Salud, which had closed down construction of the Hotel Riu in Playa Matapalo. Health ministry officials also are inspecting the conditions of the estimated 796 workers on the construction site and their temporary living quarters in and around Sardinal.

The health ministry closed down the site after a worker died. Work resumed Thursday.

The chamber said that the publicity had given the area a black eye and affected the image of the area.

Road closed for tree cutting

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Highway crews will close part of the Río Birrís-Caseta Cobro road in Oreamuno de Cartago this morning from 8 a.m. to noon so they can cut down a tree.

The Consejo Nacional de Vialidad said that the tree is hanging over the road and presenting a possible dangerous situation.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 245



Lawmakers to suggest new tax on non-colon bond interest
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Lawmakers discussing ways to finance protection of witnesses and victims seem to have come to an agreement that a new tax is needed. They will suggest that a tax be imposed on the interest from bonds issued in foreign currencies.

The discussion was in the Comisión Especial de Seguridad Ciudadana, which is expected to soon report the measure to the full legislature.

The proposal still is vague, but committee members figure the protection will cost about 2 billion colons or about $3.6 million. Costa Rica now taxes interest on bonds and commercial paper denominated in colons.

In a Nov. 19 session, lawmakers suggested an 8 percent tax. That would require some $45.3 million in interest to generate sufficient money. Others have suggested that protection of witnesses would cost from 2.5 billion to 3 billion colons or about $4.5  and $5.4 million.
Until lawmakers actually pass an amendment to the proposed law they are considering, computing the cost of such a tax will be difficult. In addition, a tax would tend to cause investors to put their money elsewhere, reducing total income.

The new tax would finance an office of protection of witnesses and victims. The Corte Suprema de Justicia would administer the program, lawmakers said.

Evita Arguedas Maklouf, a member of the committee, said that the bill would be tied to the national budget, too, so that any shortfalls would come from general revenues.

Under the proposal, the tax would be assessed on all bonds and notes issued by the government, public banks or private banks in Costa Rica. Many of these bonds are purchased by international buyers, so the tax would have to be collected in Costa Rica before interest was paid. That would reduce the real yield on the bonds, perhaps causing the international investors to demand slightly more in interest rates.


President adds his support for constitutional changes
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Reform of the Costa Rican Constitution is something officials in the Arias administration have been chewing on for some time, according to President Óscar Arias Sánchez, who has returned from a round-the-world trip to the Arab Emirates and Singapore.

While he was gone, his brother, Rodrigo Arias Sánchez, the minister of the Presidencia, brought up the idea of a citizen assembly to make changes to the existing Constitution.

Óscar Arias said that not all his ministers had participated in the discussion but that changes are needed to the structure of the state via constitutional reform, which would be
the easiest and most expeditious.

Still unclear are the exact changes Arias seeks. He has been frustrated for a long time at the slow process that finally resulted in the approval of the Central American Free Trade Treaty.  Much of the program he put forth in his election platform in 2005 still are bills in the Asamblea Legislativa.

"This is a country with a fossilized state where we have a mountain of rights without any responsibility, and this makes the state unable to progress, sometimes paralyzed for the love of paralyzing things," said Arias in a prepared statement. "This is not valid and not part of a democratic system."


Pity the bats: Lots of ideas offered to evict them or worse
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A reader, Steve Petretti, going batty with bats in his attic in San Buenaventura now has a lot of options.

One reader suggested stuffing the attic with mothballs so the fumes would drive out the bats. Plus this reader thinks that Petretti is facing bat threats from two types because he said bats were feeding on his livestock.  That suggests vampire bats in addition insect-chasing flying rodents.

Other readers suggested electronic devices designed to chase away rats and mice to simply sealing up the space after the bats fly out at dusk for food.

Another reader related his experiences: "We tried pouring boiling water, shooting them with bird shots and a few other unsuccessful attempts. After a while we just ignored them."

Petretti said he was concerned with bat droppings leaking through his ceiling, and one reader said this was a legitimate concern: "Apart from the collection of bat droppings (which you would be surprise at the amount generated given time) there is the danger that if rain got into your attic that ugly brown stain would seep down through the joints of your tongue and groove ceiling."

Another pointed out the possible health menace.

A bat-eating boa and installing lights in the attic were other suggestions.
A man from Talamanca, Ray Schlabach, had these suggestions:

Our house had a corrugated tin roof above the attic.  Bats lived in the space between the roof and the soffit underneath, but also flew in the attic.  It was almost impossible to seal them out. I note on Internet that they recommend a bat house. OUR house was the bat house!

Here are some things that worked:

1.) I sprayed liquid aldrin into their living space above the soffit.  But aldrin has now been banned in Costa Rica.  Dead bats dry up, so don't worry about the smell.

2.) We had bats roost in our stairway at night. A tiny electric bulb burning all night kept them from roosting during the night.

3) In Heredia we had a problem with the bat(s) sleeping in our laundry room.

In Dallas at Home Depot we bought an electric rodent controller. About $27. (They didn't have anything for bats.) This is supposed to work thru walls, and range can be extended with stringing extra electric wiring.  We tried it, and it works for bats, even tho it says it is for rats.  It may take several days to convince the bats (or rats) not to return.  It is made by GLOBA INSTRUMENTS LTD, Trenton, MO 64683 USA.  Model number PAC- PLUS.  They might even make gadgets for bats.  I don't know.


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 245


Crime and drug cartel situations in México are grim
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Mexico's attorney general says the murder rate from increasingly powerful drug cartels has more than doubled in the past year, and the situation is going to get worse.

The attorney general, Eduardo Medina Mora, said 5,376 people have been murdered in drug cartel-related violence this year. That is a 117-percent increase compared to the first 11 months of 2007, and he said the violence is likely to grow worse before it peaks.
 
The cartels are not only using violence as an implement to achieve their aims, they also have vast amounts of money at their fingertips, which Mexican authorities say they are using as a multi-pronged weapon of corruption.

Mexican authorities recently arrested the former head of Mexico's federal anti-narcotics effort, Noe Ramírez.  He is accused of accepting a $450,000 bribe from a narcotics cartel in return for information.

Medina Mora said the arrest was achieved because of close and crucial cross-border intelligence cooperation with the United States.
 
"The real problem of trust comes from the fact that you deny the problems, or you do nothing about them," said Medina Mora. "When you face them with determination, this is how you build trust and this is what we are doing with the invaluable support of the U.S. Department of Justice and the DEA," meaning the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
 
The United States is providing México with almost half of the first $400 million from the $1.4-billion Merida Initiative. The money is being used for helicopters, planes, inspection equipment and training programs.

The Mexican ambassador for North American affairs, Carlos Rico, said the U.S. assistance sends a clear message to the drug cartels that Mexico is not alone in its struggle with the criminal organizations.
 
"The basic message is that Mexico and the United States are committed to fully cooperating against a common enemy, organized crime," said Rico. "Transnational organized crime is a menace to the populations of both countries, and we are fully committed on both sides of the border to fight with all our might against that scourge."
Rico said that vigilance and hard work have uncovered major corruption that threatens both countries.
 
"As anyone who looks at the problem from a realistic point of view will know, the kinds of resources, I am not just talking of financial resources, not even arms, the kinds of weapons these people have, gives them a tremendous leverage against all governments of the world," he said. "ATF in its own statements to the U.S. Congress said that over 90 percent of U.S. weapons that are taken from organized crime in Mexico come from the U.S." He was referring to the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms.

In Rico's view, the fundamental problem is the continuing demand for illegal narcotics in the United States, which remains largely undiminished.
 
"The key market in this case is a U.S. market, that in spite of very, very impressive efforts that the U.S. government has put into reducing demand, it has remained as pretty much as it used to be a few years ago," said Rico. "So, as long as that demand is there and the impressive possibility of amazing profits of illegal operators and criminal organizations, it is going to be pretty much impossible for México to solve the issue."
 
Rico says officials are determined to press on with the fight against drug corruption, but his optimism is confronted by torture, beheadings and other mutilations that are becoming commonplace in some parts of Mexico, as the cartels fight a murderous war for multi-million dollar routes into the United States.
 
"I am convinced that we will prevail," he said. "We will be facing, of course very, very significant challenges. Many people may feel discouraged at some point. But I am convinced, fully convinced — and this is something that President Calderón has injected in all of us. His commitment has really permeated into all of his collaborators. We are convinced that we will prevail." Felipe Calderón has put the military into the streets to fight drugs.
 
But the challenges to the government and Mexican society are daunting. In addition to the growing number of drug-related murders during the past year, a judge recently ordered the arrest of Mexico's former acting federal police chief, Gerado Gary. According to the Attorney General's Office, he is accused of connections with a drug cartel.


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 245



A.M. Costa Rica
users guide


This is a brief users guide to A.M. Costa Rica.

Old pages

Each day someone complains via e-mail that the newspages are from yesterday or the day before. A.M. Costa Rica staffers check every page and every link when the newspaper is made available at 2 a.m. each week day.

So the problem is with the browser in each reader's computer. Particularly when the connection with the  server is slow, a computer will look to the latest page in its internal memory and serve up that page.

Readers should refresh the page and, if necessary, dump the cache of their computer, if this problem persists. Readers in Costa Rica have this problem frequently because the local Internet provider has continual problems.

Searching

The A.M. Costa Rica search page has a list of all previous editions by date and a space to search for specific words and phrases. The search will return links to archived pages.

Newspages

A typical edition will consist of a front page and four other newspages. Each of these pages can be reached by links near the top and bottom of the pages.

Classifieds

Five classified pages are updated daily. Employment listings are free, as are listings for accommodations wanted, articles for sale and articles wanted. The tourism page and the real estate sales and real estate rentals are updated daily.

Advertising information

A summary of advertising rates and sizes are available for display and classifieds.

Statistics

A.M. Costa Rica makes its monthly statistics available to advertisers and readers. It is HERE! 


Contacting us

Both the main telephone number and the editor's e-mail address are listed on the front page near the date.

Visiting us

Directions to our office and other data, like bank account numbers are on the about us page.



China seeks pact in Brazil
to explore offshore fields


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Brazil's energy minister said China is offering to help his country develop huge offshore oil fields with a $10 billion loan.

Edison Lobao told a Brazilian newspaper, Folha de Sao Paulo, in an interview published Monday that Chinese officials have offered to loan the money to Brazil's state oil company, Petrobras.

Lobao said other offers of funding for oil field development have come from the United Arab Emirates and companies in Japan and Canada.

Brazil has discovered what it said are massive offshore oil reserves beneath the sea floor and under the earth's pre-salt layer. Drilling for oil at such depths will require expensive technology.

The Brazilian energy minister said developing the oil fields will be profitable only if crude prices stay above $30 a barrel.

Brazil estimates these oil reserves contain up to 14 billion barrels of crude.

Petrobras is due to announce a new oil field investment plan later this month.


China and Russia lead
list of bribery sources


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A new survey says companies in Russia and China are among the most likely to pay bribes to win business opportunities abroad.

The report was released Tuesday by a Berlin-based anti-corruption organization, Transparency International. It ranks 22 of the most influential economies based on interviews with business executives from around the world.

Russian firms were rated most likely to engage in bribery, followed by Mexico, China and India.

Companies in Belgium and Canada were least likely to offer bribes. The United States was ranked near the middle of the list - tied with Singapore and France.

The survey says companies looking for public works construction projects are most likely to try to gain influence with public officials. Real estate and oil and gas companies are the next most serious offenders.

Transparency International says it hopes the list encourages governments and companies to increase anti-corruption measures.

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