Last week's enforcement agency raids on Costa Rica-based online poker companies were the culmination of years of monitoring and observation, the regional newspaper Tico Times reported in a weekend feature on the actions.
The report says that four of the 11 men indicted in the United States on Black Friday on charges that included bank fraud and money laundering of up to $3 billion were the targets of the Costa Rica operation.
Monitoring on at least one of the defendants had however started as far back as 2007, when a small private plane had a minor accident during take-off at Costa Rica’s Juan Santamaría International Airport.
While investigating the accident, airport officials stumbled upon something unusual. Inside the plane, which had a flight plan to Colombia, authorities found a bag containing $3 million in cash...and one of its passengers was allegedly Scott Tom, founder of an online gambling website subsequently named in the US indictments, Absolute Poker.
This multi-million dollar discovery prompted the Public Prosecutor’s Office to begin monitoring Tom, who investigators suspected of laundering money earned from U.S. poker players and dispersing it into bank accounts throughout the world, claims Tico Times in its front page article.
Guillermo Hernández, adjunct prosecutor at the Prosecutor’s Office Financial Crimes Division, told the newspaper:
“When we learned of the money on the plane and that Scott Tom had been on the flight, we began to investigate the financial and economic activities that he had in Costa Rica.
“We were able to determine that there was an important flow of money from the United States to Costa Rica and that it was being invested in different forms in Costa Rica.”
Four years later, and with a little help from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Prosecutor’s Office began to build a case that allegedly linked the funds to illegal online gambling operations. Investigators believed they had enough evidence that money laundering and bank fraud were occurring, the newspaper reveals.
That activity culminated when the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, unsealed his indictments against 11 individuals allegedly associated with online poker and banking offences.
It was the green light for the Costa Rica authorities to mount Judicial Investigation Police raids on Costa Rica business and residential premises believed to be associated with the US indictments as they searched for information and four of the defendants believed to be in Costa Rica, namely Scott Tom, Brent Beckley, Bradley Franzen and Ira Rubin.
On May 6, OIJ officials raided the IDS building and the local offices of PokerStars, also searching Tom’s home in Escazú, and the home of IDS executive Olman Rimola, whom they suspected of assisting Tom with laundering money obtained from U.S. bets.
Oldemar Ramírez, a security worker at the Forum complex, was also arrested on suspicion of being involved in the criminal activity.
Prosecutor Hernández told the Tico Times that Rimola turned himself in to the Prosecutor’s Office on the Monday following the raids.
Both Ramírez and Rimola have been ordered to stay in the country and must present themselves to the Public Prosecutor’s Office every 15 days, but Scott Tom was not found and remains at large.
“We were able to determine that the money coming from the U.S. to Costa Rica was invested by two Costa Ricans (Ramírez and Rimola),” Hernández said. “The two men were investing the money in Costa Rica, especially in the purchase of property and vehicles.”
However, Rimola's legal representative, José Alberto Monterrosa, subsequently told the Costa Rica daily newspaper La Nación that while online gambling may be illegal in the U.S., it is not a crime in Costa Rica.
“In our country, (online gambling sites) are permitted, so what is the crime? I still haven’t found one and I don’t think I’m going to,” Monterrosa told La Nación.
Last Wednesday (see InfoPowa report), Bharara announced that the U.S. Attorney’s Office had reached an agreement with Absolute Poker that the company would reimburse funds owed to U.S. residents that gambled on the site.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office estimated that the three online poker companies named in its indictments had collectively obtained approximately $3 billion in revenue.
The IDS building where Absolute Poker was housed in Costa Rica remained closed and vacant this week, the Tico Times reports.
Source: InfoPowa News