To the relief, and chagrin, of a great number of former clients of the high-interest investment operation known as “The Brothers,” the Judicial Branch has set a date for the trial against Osvaldo Villalobos, one of the two Villalobos brothers alleged to have ran the operation.
Osvaldo’s brother, Luis Enrique Villalobos, is still being sought by judicial authorities and has an international warrant out for his arrest.
The trial, however, is not set to begin until Feb. 5, 2007. According to Judicial Branch spokesman Sergio Bonilla, the case is so far off because the courts are “saturated.”
“We are elated and we are sad,” said John Manners, head of the board of United Concerned Citizens and Residents (UCCR), a group that he says represents more than 700 Brothers investors. “Elated that we finally have a date and sad that it took so long.”
Manners and the UCCR recently launched an intensive letter-writing campaign asking the courts to set a date for the trial. Manners estimates that “at least 200-300” letters were sent to the judge and prosecutor, as well as others, involved in the case.
“The week after we started the campaign, we got the date,” he added. “It seemed to have worked, though you never know in these cases.”
The UCCR is an organization that insists the Brothers are innocent and claims to have maintained communication with Luis Enrique since he disappeared in July 2002 with an estimated $800 million in investors’ money after Costa Rican authorities raided his offices and home. Police also seized computers and documents and froze $7 million in bank accounts (TT, March 14, 2003).
The Villalobos Brothers, for 15-20 years, ran a successful investment operation where clients received monthly, payments of 2-3% of a minimum $10,000 investment. At the time of the police raid, the Brothers were estimated to have had 6,000 clients.
Following the raids, Osvaldo Villalobos was arrested and spent more than two years in prison and house arrest on charges of fraud, money laundering and illegal financial intermediation. He was released in May 2004 on a type of parole (TT, April 1, 2005).
The announcement of the trial date comes more than a year after a preliminary hearing was held in early 2005 to decide whether or not Osvaldo would face charges (TT, Feb. 4, 2005).