PLAYA CARMEN – The 12-kilometer strip that joins Playa Carmen with Malpaís and Santa Teresa is a surfer’s paradise. This beach town on Costa Rica’s southern Nicoya Peninsula is well-known for spectacular sunsets and fast-breaking waves. It’s a place where expats drop out and raise a family.
It’s also home to a doctor who was charged in the United States of sexually abusing minors, and who is now operating a medical clinic that for the past two and a half years has treated many local residents and an untold number of their children.
Nondescript, the clinic is situated on a dusty, gravel beach-access road at the edge of Playa Carmen, along with a surf shop, dentist’s office, ATV rental agency and a small hotel and bar. A simple sign hanging above the office’s tinted glass advertises “Doctor’s Office.”
Another sign advertises the services of Dr. German E. de Jesús Moreno Rojas. Many expats say they go to the clinic, only one of two clinics in town, because Dr. Moreno is registered to provide care for their state health care policies issued by the National Insurance Institute.
Many local Costa Ricans say they can’t afford Moreno’s high examination fees.
None of the community members were aware – until last week – that Dr. German Enrique de Jesús Moreno Rojas, whose name is on file with U.S. and Costa Rican authorities, is actually German Enrique Moreno Rojas, a fugitive in two countries who twice was found guilty of abusing minors and managed to flee justice before a sentence was handed down.
The first documented run-in Moreno had with the law was in Costa Rica in 1989, when a minor from the Caribbean-slope town of Turrialba accused Moreno of abuse, the daily Al Día reported in 2005. Following that accusation, four additional minors also came forward and accused the doctor of abusing them.
Moreno was convicted, and a court in the city of Cartago, east of San José, sentenced him to prison. But Moreno had vanished.
Asked by The Tico Times to elaborate on Moreno’s 1995 conviction and the nature of his crimes, an official at Costa Rica’s Interpol office, located within the Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ), would not comment, citing local privacy laws.
The statute of limitations on those charges in Costa Rica has since expired.
A fugitive from justice, Moreno next surfaced in the U.S. city of Houston, Texas, where according to the Houston Press he practiced medicine without a license and became an active member of a local church in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.
In May 2005, authorities in Houston arrested Moreno and charged him with two counts of indecency with a child, two counts of assault of a child and one count of aggravated sexual assault of a child, the Houston Press reported. A judge set bail at $60,000. Moreno paid the bail and disappeared again, causing Interpol to issue an international arrest warrant for the doctor on charges of crimes against children and sex crimes. That warrant was renewed last March.
For years, Moreno’s case went cold, until neighbors in Malpaís spotted him last week, just days before his 50th birthday on Monday. Sensing something was amiss during visits to Moreno’s clinics, local residents became aware of his criminal past by doing a simple Google search, they say. The first item to appear was Interpol’s arrest warrant notice.
“As members of the community and as a parent, when we found out this information, we knew we had to do something about it,” said a local resident who asked to remain anonymous out of safety concerns.
Residents called officials at the OIJ and the U.S. Embassy, to no avail. Costa Rica’s Constitution protects its citizens from extradition to other countries. Since the charges in Costa Rica have expired, authorities cannot arrest Moreno. Interpol cannot arrest Moreno because of Costa Rica’s constitutional protection.
Minor Jiménez is principal of the public school in Santa Teresa, where 180 students ages 4 to 13 study just a few kilometers from Moreno’s clinic. When he heard about the doctor’s case, Jiménez said he was shocked yet not in disbelief. “I was never comfortable around Dr. Moreno and I never saw him as a trustworthy person,” he said.
The school principal said he began to grow concerned about Moreno’s frequent presence at a soccer field adjacent to the school.
Among local residents, Jiménez is the first person to allow his name to be published in the ongoing Tico Times investigation of Moreno. While many others have also come forward with information, they have asked that their names be withheld.
“Now that I have all of this information, it is my responsibility to talk to the children and their parents and make them aware of this man’s criminal past,” Jiménez said.
Moreno declined to comment for this story, referring The Tico Times to his attorney, but he refused to give the name of the attorney.
“You have no right to invade my privacy. You’re calling a private number and telling me [about charges] that have already expired and been pre-judged,” Moreno said before hanging up the phone.
Correction: In our online version of the Aug. 8 story on German Moreno, we incorrectly reported that the doctor was twice convicted of charges related to sexually abusing minors. Moreno was convicted of sexual abuse in Costa Rica and fled sentencing. While he was arrested in the U.S. on similar charges, Moreno fled the country and became a fugitive from justice before that case went to trial. The Tico Times regrets the error.