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(506) 223-1327         Published Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 251               E-mail us
Jo Stuart
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Father Minor acquitted of Parmenio Medina murder
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
(Posted at 5:10 p.m.)
A trial court Wednesday declared innocent of murder the Catholic priest Minor Calvo Aguilar. But a businessman got a guilty verdict as did a man the court said was involved directly in the 2001 shooting of radio commentator Parmenio Medina Peréz.

Calvo, who headed the Catholic station Radio María, was found guilty of fraud and sentenced to 15 years in prison. The three-judge trial panel found the businessman,  Omar Chaves Mora, guilty of both murder and fraud. He got a total of 47 years.

Adalberto Reyes Ruiz, known as Luis Alberto Aguirre Jaime, got 30 years. The prosecution contended that Calvo and Chaves were the intellectual authors of the crime and that Reyes carried it out. Medina was shot multiple times near
his Heredia home by killers in a car. He had been highly critical on his weekly radio show of Calvo and the way Radio María was being conducted.

Six other persons said by the prosecution to have been involved in the contract killing were freed.
The trial took two years and is the longest in Costa Rican history.

The fraud charge stems from the claim that Calvo and Chaves took money from radio listeners in the name of religion but then used it for other purposes.

The decision is not the one the prosecution expected. Calvo was detained personally at a Liberia hotel by Francisco Dall'Anese, the nation's chief prosecutor, after an investigation that took two years. Dall'Anese was new on the job four years ago and was trying to clear up cases that had languished.

One policeman killed, second wounded in shootout
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

One policeman died and a second suffered serious injuries from bullets Tuesday night in a shootout in the street in front of the Caribbean bus station in north San José.

The assailants escaped but two suspects were being questioned later.

The shootout took place about 10 p.m. when the two motorcycle policemen were in pursuit of a suspicious vehicle. The details of the case still were unclear.

The scene at the shooting was guarded heavily by police. Two Fuerza Pública motorcycles were on their sides in the street and the body of the slain policeman lay a few feet away. The wounded man went to Hospital Calderón Guardia suffering from at least two bullet wounds.
policeman shot
A.M. Costa Rica/Manuel Antonio Ramírez Corrales
Body of slain policeman lies covered near the front fender of an auto while an investigator photographs two police motorcycles the officers were riding.

100 new tourism officers are going on the job today
By Elise Sonray
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Exactly 100 new tourism police officers are starting their first day on the job around the country today. New offices opened Monday in Heredia, Dominical, Puntarenas and surrounding towns.

Many of the new officers will be sent to re-enforce existing operations, while others will be sent to open new operations in regions new to the tourism police units. The newly trained officers are part of a program implemented last year aimed at reducing crimes against tourists.

Tourism-related crimes have dropped 26 percent since the implementation last year, according to the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo.

The new officers graduated from La Escuela Nacional de Policía at a ceremony in Pavas Monday morning and many started working the same day, according to Xinia Vasquez, sub-director of the Policía Turística.

Tourism police officers are trained in the basic three-month police course and receive an additional month of intensive training dealing with particular crimes, ethics and other issues relating to tourism.

A portion of the new officers worked previously as policemen, said Vasquez, but most are brand new.

Although they receive specialized instruction in tourism, few of the officers speak other languages. Of the officers who do speak other languages, the main second-language is English. “For example, in San José, there are two or three officers who are
 not chiefs, who speak English,” said Ms. Vasquez.
“One of the largest problems we seem to have with tourists,” said Ms. Vasquez, “is their excess of trust.” She also mentioned that a number of tourists continue to carry their actual passports on their person, rather than copies, a highly valuable item for thieves and pickpockets.

Last year there were about 124 tourism police, the new officers bring the number up to 224. About half of the new officers will be sent to reinforce existing zones, while the other half will be sent to open operations in new zones.

San José will receive seven more officers bringing the total to 21.

Alajuela will receive six more for a total of 14 officers.  Guanacaste will receive the most this year with 25 new officers, bringing their total to 65 officers. Límón will get 15 new officers for 25 in total.

New areas include Heredia, which will receive four new officers, Dominical with 11 officers, and about 20 officers will be sent to protect Manuel Antonio, Cóbano and Puntarenas. La Fortuna will  receive 22 officers.

The officers will work different hours depending on the needs of the particular town said Ms. Vasquez. For example, more officers may work night shifts in Guanacaste because of the lively night scene. She also said schedules will change slightly after the busy season, but the number of tourism officers in each town will stay the same throughout the year. The officers will work 12-hour shifts she said. 

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13 Internet bank fraud raids
net 11, Dall'Anese reports

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators conducted 13 raids and detained 11 persons Tuesday in another sweeping attack against Internet bank fraud.

The Poder Judicial press spokesperson also said that the individuals will face a conspiracy count. The arrests are the latest effort by investigators to stop the continual raiding of accounts at the nation's banks.

In the late afternoon a prosecutor from the Fiscalia de Fraude went before a judge to seek one year's preventative detention for the suspects. Agents said that there might be more arrests because others are being sought.

The arrests were the topic of a morning press conference given by Francisco Dall’Anese, the nation's chief prosecutor.
The Poder Judicial said raids were done at these locations:

• A house in El Roble de Alajuela occupied by a man with the last name of Sirias;

• A house in Barrio Lujan in San José;

• A house in Hatillo 6 occupied by a man with the last name of Benavides and a woman with the name Rivera;

• A house occupied by a man with the last name of Solano in El Guarco in Cartago;

• Another house in El Roble de Alajuela;

• A third house in El Roble occupied by a woman with the last name of Bolaños;

• A house of a man with the last name of Monge in Alajuelita, a San José suburb to the south;

• A house in Villa Esperanza, Pavas;

• A house occupied by a man with the last name of Castro in San Rafael de Desampardos;

• A house in Quircot de Cartago occupied by a man with the last name of Vindas;

• A house in León XIII in Tibás occupied by a man with the last name of Segura;

• A house of a man with the last name of Berrocal in Jardines de Cascajal in Paso Ancho, and

• The home of a man with the last name of Rodríguez in San Carlos

Many of the suspects are believed to be persons who accepted stolen transfers into their own bank accounts. This has been the case with previous arrests. The fraud takes place when crooks manage to steal or otherwise obtain account information of victims. Money is quickly drained from the account and transferred rapidly among accounts to confuse investigators.

The character of some of the recent thefts suggested that they were done by persons with inside access. But the Poder Judicial spokesperson said none of those arrested Tuesday were bank employees.

Health officials in Tamarindo
cite businesses for problems

By Helen Thompson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Almost every business in Tamarindo checked by the Ministerio de Salud will be served with a sanitary order, Frederico Amador, executive director of Associación Pro-Mejoras Playa Tamarindo, said Tuesday.

Health ministry officials finished a two-week inspection of the Pacific beach town Friday.  They attempted to establish the source of the massive sewage contamination in the ocean that was discovered during tests by the Instituto Nacional de Acueductos y Alcantarillados and published in October.

Officials arrived with a list of 250 businesses to check, but aimed to check every business in the town, constituting up to 300 businesses.  They asked for documents and information about everything from the number of employees to methods of kitchen waste disposal, and checked on-site equipment, said Amador.

Amador said that each business had something wrong with it, whether it be missing emergency lights, an inadequate sewage treatment system, or a lack of the correct permit to exist on concession land.

Businesses will now have a specified period of time to correct their problems, ranging from one month upwards depending on the severity of the issue, and if the owners fail to reach acceptable standards within this time the health ministry will take moves to shut them down.

“Some businesses need a professional follow up,” said Mr. Amador. “The officials will be back in January with engineers and technicians to take a closer look at these cases.”
Amador was unable to provide names of specific businesses.

“We seem to have passed the preliminary checks,” said James Webster, director of Witch's Rock Surf Camp, which has not yet received an order. “They're taking it a lot more seriously than previous checks they have done, which clearly did not uncover all the problems. If they've tried to do something like this before, they didn't do it very well.”

The health ministry workers now are expected to analyse the collected data they have collected to check and verify the information that the businesses have provided.

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Tiny twins who were separated have moved out of California hospital
By Anne Clark
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Yurelia and Fiorella Rocha Arias, the formerly joined twins, are expecting a triumphant return home to Costa Rica in six to eight weeks.  Their separation occurred Nov. 12, and the twins have improved enough to be released from Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at California last week. 

The girls are now outpatients with daily occupational and physical therapy appointments to improve their strength and mobility, the hospital reported. 

“The twins are doing very well,” said Gary Hartman, lead surgeon for last month’s separation surgery. “Yurelia is
almost fully recovered. Meanwhile, Fiorella’s blood pressure is returning to normal through medication. All in all, we’re quite pleased.”

The 2-year-old twins are also recovering from their surgical procedures following the separation. Yurelia’s life-threatening congenital heart anomaly known as double outlet right ventricle was corrected by Frank Hanley, chief of pediatric cardiothoracic surgery, Nov. 14. Then, Nov. 19, Fiorella returned to surgery for chest reconstruction and repair of her skin closure, a procedure led by Hartman and Peter Lorenz, chief of pediatric plastic surgery.

“Through preparation, surgery and recovery, basically every discipline in the hospital has been involved with the girls and their care,” said Hartman.

Oswaldo Villalobos asks to serve just 18 months in prison
By José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Oswaldo Villalobos, convicted of defrauding thousands of investors, asked the nation's highest criminal court Tuesday to reduce his sentence from 18 years to 18 months, the minimum for such crimes.

Villalobos, the former operator of Ofinter S.A. money exchange house, spoke only for about three minutes before magistrates of the Sala III of the Corte Suprema de Justicia cut him off. One said he was repeating what his lawyers already said.

The morning oral appeals hearing attracted only about 20 persons. The main issues were the validity of the Villalobos conviction in May and also the right of some civil claimants to have been awarded money damages.

No decision was announced during the session that lasted a bit more than an hour. Speculation is that the appeals panel will issue a decision after a vote sometime in January.

Villalobos, one half of the Brothers Villalobos investment scheme, was born in 1944. He turned 63 in September. Any significant sentences would likely be a life sentence. He has been in jail since the verdict was announced by the trial court May 15. However, he appeared healthy.

The Villalobos investment operation had about $1 billion in its books in deposits and rolled over interest when it folded in October 2002. The other brother, Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho, continues to be a fugitive. They used to pay depositors 3 percent interest a month.

Some investors have killed themselves, some marriages have broken up and a number of persons have suffered severe financial hardship because of the investment operation that the trial court judges labeled a ponzi scheme. Many of the victims were North Americans.

The hearing Tuesday began shortly after 9 a.m. Lawyer Ewald Acuña Blanco was the key figure in the first matter being discussed. He was emphatic that civil claimants he represented should be included in any financial payout. He said that at three different levels the Ministerio Público and the justice system had accepted proofs that these individuals had suffered loses. He said payments should be made to every claimant who presented certified copies that were accepted before trial.

Rodrigo Araya, representing the Villalobos interests, argued that 32 powers of attorney held by Acuña should be rejected because they suffered from irregularities. In some cases, the lawyers claim that the persons who supposedly signed the documents were not even in Costa Rica at the time they were signed. The suggestion is that Acuña sidestepped the complex legal process of having the signatures validated by notaries elsewhere and then the relevant Costa Rican consulate.

Instead, the claim has been made that some of the documents were simply faxed to his office.

The Villalobos lawyers also attacked the legality of the
Oswaldo villalobos at trial
A.M. Costa Rica archive photo/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
White-haired Oswaldo Villalobos confers with a lawyer at the end of his fraud trial in May.

initial raid on the money borrowing operation at Mall San Pedro and other technical issues. This had been addressed in earlier filings. A representative of the prosecutor's office said the raid and other matters were conducted in a legal framework.

Those defending the initial sentence pointed out that the Villalobos brothers had at least 50 corporations that received money paid to the brothers by investors. In addition, they pointed out that the checks Luis Enrique Villalobos gave as evidence of deposit to the investors were not covered by funds at the bank.

The decision by the magistrates is expected to center on technical issues rather than the basic question of the guilt or innocence of Oswaldo Villalobos. There was sufficient evidence presented at the trial to show that Oswaldo Villalobos handled much of the money collected by his brother and that he operated as an equal partner in the high-interest operation. In fact, in some documents he is listed as the head of corporations to which money was channeled.

The evidence countered the defense claim at the trial that Oswaldo Villalobos was simply renting office space adjacent to that used by his brother at the Mall San Pedro.

The trial court convicted him of aggravated fraud and illegal banking.

Law officers in Minnesota list charges facing former Jacó real estate salesman
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Minnesota office of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and branches of the Minnesota police and two Minnesota sheriff's departments confirmed Tuesday the arrest in Costa Rica of Charles Boyd Edward Vance, 41, of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Vance was working as a real estate agent in Jacó and was arrested Monday at his job site. His name had been reported incorrectly Tuesday.
According to Minnesota officials, a federal criminal complaint was filed in August 2003, in U. S. District Court
in Minneapolis charging Vance with unlawful flight to avoid prosecution on a complaint filed in July 2000 that charged Vance with “controlled substance crime in the first degree.” Vance also had outstanding warrants for burglary and possession of a controlled substance, according to law enforcers.

Vance's arrest Monday was part of a joint effort between the Minnesota Fugitive Task Force, the International Police, Costa Rican authorities, the U.S. State Department's Regional Security Office and FBI offices in Minneapolis, Washington, DC and Panama City, Panama, said the FBI.

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Prensa Latina says that Colombian rebels will release three hostages to Chávez
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A Cuban news agency reports that Colombian leftist rebels have announced their intention to release three hostages and hand them over to Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.

Prensa Latina reported Tuesday that the rebel Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia sent a statement saying that Clara Rojas, her young son, Emmanuel, and former congresswoman Consuelo González would be freed. It was not clear when the rebels would let them go.

Colombia's peace commissioner, Luis Carlos Restrepo, voiced skepticism, saying his government does not have other sources to establish the veracity of the statement. Prensa Latina said the captives would be turned over to Chávez or "whomever he opts to designate."

The statement attributed to the rebels also condemned Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, who dismissed President Chávez from his role as mediator in talks with the
rebels to free some 45 hostages. The move prompted Chávez to cut off diplomatic ties with Colombia.

Chávez said he would not personally meet the hostages upon their release, adding there was still a question of where they would be set free. The Venezuelan leader also said he had received a statement from the rebels concerning the release of hostages. Chávez made his remarks in Uruguay as he attended a trade summit.

The rebels have demanded the release of hundreds of rebels held in Colombian prisons in exchange for the hostages, who include three Americans as well as former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt.

Betancourt was captured while campaigning for the Colombian presidency in February 2002. Ms. Rojas, who was an aide to the French-Colombian politician, was captured alongside her. Ms. Rojas's son was born in captivity, and it has been reported that the father was one of her captors.

Hollywood couple face charges of paying bribes overseas
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A film executive and his spouse were arrested Tuesday on allegations of making corrupt payments to a Thai government official in order to obtain lucrative contracts to run an international film festival in Bangkok, in violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, the Justice Department announced.

The film executive, Gerald Green, 75, and his wife, Patricia Green, 52, both of West Hollywood, were arrested on a criminal complaint filed Dec. 7 in federal court in Los Angeles and unsealed Tuesday.  The complaint alleges that the Greens conspired to make more than $1.7 million in bribe payments for the benefit of a government official with the Tourism Authority of Thailand in order to obtain the film festival contract and other contracts worth more than $10 million.

The Greens owned and operated Film Festival Management, a Los Angeles-based business that was formed in 2003 specifically to bid for the management contract for the annual Bangkok International Film Festival.  The complaint alleges that from 2003 and
continuing into 2007, the Greens conspired with others to bribe a senior Thai government official who was, at the time, the president of the festival and the governor of the tourism authority. 

As a result of her position at the tourism authority, the Thai official was able to influence the awarding of the festival contracts as well as other tourism contracts, said the complaint.  More than $1.7 million in payments were made for the benefit of the Thai official, said the Justice Department.

The complaint also alleges that the Greens attempted to conceal their bribery by using different business entities, some with dummy business addresses and telephone numbers, in their dealings with the tourism authority in order to hide the large amount of money the Greens were being paid under the contracts, and by making commission payments to the Thai official through the foreign bank accounts of intermediaries.

The conspiracy and Foreign Corrupt Practices Act allegations each carry a maximum of five years in prison.

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