San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Villalobos Detective Hasn’t Left Costa Rica

IT looked like a disappearing act, withhundreds of luckless investors dupedagain, but the man who claims to havepinned down $500 million of Villalobosinvestors’ money is still in Costa Rica. TheTico Times spoke with Steven Waitman athis Central Valley home after a month ofsilence that made some investors wonder ifthey had been defrauded.He promised to return the money tothe investors, minus a 15% commission,but he charged them $50-100 each –which he calls a processing fee – to verifytheir account documents that provehow much money each invested. He estimated1,800 investors took him up on thedeal, meaning he could have received$90,000-180,000 in the last three months.He has missed the deadline for paymentby six weeks, leading some investors tothink he will never pay.“I haven’t gone anywhere. I’m notgoing anywhere,” he said.His immigration record confirmedthere has been no recent movement. Thesix-week delay in payments to investors iscaused by businesses that refused to workwith him, he said.ACCORDING to Waitman, his workwas stymied first by Plaza Robles, wherehe rented office space, which did not wantto be associated with the Villalobos name(TT, May 27) – then by Banco Interfin,where he had allegedly saved millions ofdollars before the bank forced him to closehis account, saying it could not vouch forthe honest origins of the money. Thebank’s management did not comment.For months Waitman has claimed tohave pinned down Costa Rican fugitiveLuis Enrique Villalobos, who, togetherwith his brother Osvaldo, headed a high interestloan operation with more than6,000 investors. Investors bought in for aminimum of $10,000 and received up to3% in monthly returns (TT, March 14,2003). Osvaldo was arrested and LuisEnrique fled the country shortly afterpolice raided their offices in 2002 andfroze their accounts.At the time, authorities guessed thatLuis Enrique took as much as $800 millionof investors’ money with him. Waitman, aU.S. bounty hunter living in Costa Rica,said he caught the missing Villalobosbrother, forced him to return the moneyand will bring him back to face justicewhen the payoffs are made to the formerinvestors.WAITMAN said a legal morass, thelack of good help and the unwillingness ofbusinesses to serve him in Costa Rica hasforced him to move the operation toPanama. Some of his problems stem fromcoverage of his efforts in The Tico Times,he said. In his view, the paper has skeweredhim unfairly in light of the absence ofevidence to contradict his claims.While out of sight these last weeks, hefired his lawyer, Rodolfo Cervantes,because of professional disagreements andopened preliminary talks with the law firmJurídico del Norte. Eduardo Castro, slawyer with the firm, confirmed he has metwith Waitman and said they should meetagain next week. “He wants to be verytransparent,” he added, suggesting Waitmanmay explain the details of his business.Audibly heated, Cervantes spokebriefly to The Tico Times by phone andcut the call short, although not beforesaying, “He didn’t pay me anything. Hedidn’t pay anyone that I know of. Heowes me $150,000 and didn’t pay me anyof it.”WAITMAN showed The Tico Times acopy of his contract with Cervantes thatpledged four payments totaling $150,000,the first on the first day of operation, thelast when all the Villalobos money is doledout. However, since he never began payments,he doesn’t owe Cervantes, he said.He paid Cervantes several thousand dollarsin about a dozen small advances the lawyerrequested over the three months they didbusiness together, Waitman said.To one investor who spoke to The TicoTimes on condition of anonymity,Waitman’s plan looked like another in aseries of cons that have vexed investorssince their money was tied up when theBrothers operation closed. Opportunistshave targeted Villalobos investors in thepast as a group of people who have alreadyproven their willingness to take risks, ortheir credulity.One group of about 650 investors, theUnited Concerned Citizens and Residents,warned against giving Waitman money andconsidered taking legal action against him,according a member of the group’s boardof directors.SUSPICIONS abound. Some of theprominent ones include that Waitman isworking for the U.S. Internal RevenueService (IRS) collecting bank informationon people who might not have paid theirtaxes, or that he is working for theVillalobos brothers themselves, trying tocoerce investors into withdrawing theircharges against the brothers in order togive him their account documents.When asked why it looked so shady, hesaid, “I think it’s because of our predecessors.We tried to be as outward as possible,but (there is) skepticism from these peoplewho entered into something that they knewwas too good to be true (the loan operation)and when it faltered (they could notrecover their money).”Of those who did pay and spoke to TheTico Times afterward, all were hopeful, butskeptical. One investor, a U.S. retiree livingin Costa Rica who did not want hisname made public, said, “I think he’s tryingto do something for the cause. That’swhat I call it, for the cause, for the people,and I admire him for doing it. At leastsomeone is trying to do something for thepeople who lost their money. I feel that ifhe is honest and working, which he seemsto be, I wish him the best.”

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