San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Minor Vargas trial set for early 2012

In a U.S. court in Richmond, Virginia, Judge Robert Payne set a new trial date for Costa Rican businessman Minor Vargas and his former accountant, Jorge Castillo, who remain behind bars in Virginia on seven different federal charges, including fraud and money laundering.

Both men appeared in court April 4 in a hearing lasting more than an hour, in which Judge Payne evaluated a voluminous amount of evidence that has been gathered in the case. Payne moved the trial date back to Feb. 13, 2012 to give defense attorneys time to sift through the pages and pages of documents presented by prosecutors. The judge granted the defense an extra 10 months.

U.S. federal agents arrested Vargas, president and CEO of Costa Rican-based Provident Capital Indemnity (PCI), on Jan. 19, along with Castillo, in an alleged $670 million insurance industry scam. The two were arraigned on seven counts each of conspiracy, wire fraud and mail fraud charges. Both men plead not guilty and requested a jury trial (TT, March 11, Feb. 9). If convicted the two men could face 20-year prison sentences.

During last week’s hearing, prosecuting attorney Jessica Brumberg recounted how on the day of the arrest, police confiscated a laptop, cellphone and USB flash drive containing more than 8,000 emails that must be translated from Spanish to English before they are entered into evidence.

“We working on organizing the emails with the help of an agent from the [Internal Revenue Service],” Brumberg said. “Right now, we have about 100 [emails] that are the most relevant that have already been translated, and we’ll present them on April 8.”

Prosecutors have also collected eight boxes of banking information from banks and other financial entities in Texas. Each box has about 4,000 pages of documents, making sorting through the 32,000 pages of evidence a daunting task. The documents contain both numerical data and Spanish text. Some 6,500 additional pages are being transported from Costa Rica to the U.S.

Both Vargas and Castillo are noticeably thinner since their last hearing two months ago. They entered the courtroom wearing traditional prison garb – Castillo in a gray jumper, blue tennis shoes, hands chained to his feet, and Vargas in a gray striped jumper and white tennis shoes. Both men appeared slightly nervous, Vargas more than Castillo, who at one point studied the 17 people in the court room as well as the paintings of former U.S. presidents hanging on the walls.

Vargas, attentively followed the hearing, which was in English, often stroking his beard.

Vargas is expected to be translated to the same facility as Castillo, the Pamunkey Regional Jail in the outskirts of Richmond. Both men will have the opportunity to meet with lawyers and access the incredible amount of documents filed in the case. Judge Payne ordered federal marshals to transport Vargas as soon as possible and provide the two defense teams with computers and other material to expedite the trial.

A Costly Trial

Payne also expressed concern over the cost of the trial for the U.S. government. “I don’t know who’s going pay for all of this, but prosecutors need to provide equitable [translation and other logistical] services for the accused. The costs will be expensive and it should be a collaborative effort, at least in the beginning,” Payne said. “I don’t realistically see a way to hold this trial this year, but all of this is a logical consequence that the state must confront when dealing with litigation in foreign countries.”

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