San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Judge orders three months detention for doctor arrested on new charges of sexually abusing a minor

A Costa Rican man has stepped forward and filed new sexual abuse allegations against fugitive doctor German Enrique Moreno Rojas, 50, who is wanted in the United States on similar charges. Agents from the Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) arrested Moreno at approximately 11:20 Monday morning at his mother’s house in the northern San José district of Tibás. The new charges were filed Wednesday in Jacó, on the central Pacific coast, where the alleged victim, who was 16 at the time of the abuse, currently lives.

A judge ordered Moreno held for three months in preventive custody while prosecutors investigate whether or not to file formal charges, an OIJ spokeswoman said on Wednesday. Prosecutors had asked that Moreno be held for six months. A procedural hearing on the preventive custody ruling lasted well into the evening Tuesday due to various appeals filed by Moreno’s attorney.

On Monday, Moreno was booked at downtown San Jose’s judicial headquarters and was transferred to Jacó.

Moreno had been living at his mother’s house in Tibás since closing his medical practice Aug. 6 in the southern Nicoya Peninsula beach community of Playa Carmen, after residents there discovered that the doctor was wanted in the U.S. on nine charges of sexually abusing children in Houston, Texas. Moreno did not respond to questions by The Tico Times at the time of his arrest.

Attorney Alexandra Morales said she filed new abuse allegations on behalf of the teenager, who said Moreno had become “obsessed” with him and “sexually abused him” during a period of two years, when the alleged victim, his mother and two siblings lived with the doctor. The family left Moreno in December and moved to Jacó. A press release from the court issued Wednesday said the complaint alleges the doctor abused the minor in 2008.  

Morales said the family obtained a restraining order last month against Moreno after receiving numerous threats. Morales said the alleged victim decided to file a criminal complaint after learning of media reports about the fugitive doctor.

“With the story going public, [the alleged victim] felt empowered enough to trust that Moreno would some day pay for his crimes,” Morales said.

A Tico Times investigation revealed that Moreno had been legally operating a medical clinic in Playa Carmen for nearly three years, despite being a fugitive. An international arrest warrant from Interpol is active.

None of residents in the area, which includes Malpaís, Playa Carmen and Santa Teresa, were aware until earlier this month that Moreno was also arrested in 1989 for sexually abusing minors in the Caribbean slope town of Turrialba. Although he was convicted of those charges, he fled to the U.S. before the sentencing phase of the trial in 1996. Despite being convicted, the statute of limitations on those charges has since expired, and police here were unable to arrest Moreno because the Costa Rican Constitution prohibits nationals from being extradited. Costa Rican laws also include statutes of limitations on charges even if perpetrators flee sentencing, as happened in the Moreno case.

After he fled the Costa Rica conviction, Moreno next surfaced in the U.S. city of Houston, Texas, where he practiced medicine without a license and became an active member of a local church in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, according to the Texas Medical Board and alleged victims.

In May 2005, authorities in Houston arrested Moreno and charged him with six counts of indecency with a child, two counts of assault of a child and one count of aggravated sexual assault of a child, according to a spokeswoman from the Harris County District Attorney’s office in Houston. 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.

Last week, two of Moreno’s accusers in the U.S. told The Tico Times that Moreno allegedly sexually abused them over a period of several years after befriending them at a local church, where Moreno was choir director. The unlicensed doctor also allegedly drugged some of the boys before assaulting them, one of the alleged victims said.

For years, Moreno’s case went cold, until neighbors in Playa Carmen identified him Aug. 2, just days before his 50th birthday. Told of Moreno’s arrest on Monday, residents in Playa Carmen and Santa Teresa say they are relieved that law enforcement was able to arrest the doctor, thanks in large part by a concerted community effort to raise awareness about Moreno’s case.

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