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Thursday, June 1, 2023

Alleged Villalobos Bounty Hunter: Payments Will Begin Soon

THE man who claims to have caught multimillionaire fugitive Luis Enrique Villalobos and promises to distribute $500 million of Villalobos’ wealth back to the investors who entrusted it to his high-interest loan operation said he will begin today – possibly yesterday, though there was no confirmation at press time.Stephen Waitman, an alleged bounty hunter, has said since March that he caught Villalobos and cornered his funds (TT, April 8). When he realized Costa Ricans wouldn’t pay bounties to private citizens, he claimed to have developed a plan to pay investors their due on a first-come, first served basis until the money he had captured ran out. He charged each investor at least $50, in some cases more, as an upfront processing fee, and said he will take 15% of the value of the deposit for his trouble. He will pay investors according to their account statements, which are checks from Villalobos, his brother Osvaldo Villalobos, or a financial institution involved in the operation.He has run into a series of hitches, he said, including his ejection from his original office in Plaza Robles, in the western San José suburb of Escazú, a change of lawyers and the realization that he could not bring the Villalobos money into Costa Rica without the possibility that the government would confiscate it as part of its ongoing investigation and pending trial. Osvaldo Villalobos is expected to go on trial for fraud, illegal financial intermediation and money laundering, but a court date has not been set. Luis Enrique is accused of the same crimes, but cannot be tried while he is on the run.The Villalobos brothers’ high-interest loan operation closed suddenly after what loyal investors say was a 15- to 20-year run of on-time monthly interest payments of 2.8-3% on minimum loans of $10,000.Luis Enrique Villalobos fled the country with what authorities estimate was $800 million of investors’ money (TT, March 14, 2003). He disappeared shortly after police raided his offices in the San Pedro Mall and Osvaldo’s home on July 4, 2002, seizing documents, computers and cash; the authorities later froze $7 million in Villalobos bank accounts in Costa Rica (TT, Nov. 14, 2003). The raid panicked the more than 6,000 investors, some of whom say the freezing of the $7 million forced the Villalobos to close.Osvaldo Villalobos spent more than two years in preventive detention until April, when he was released on a kind of parole, not allowed to leave the country while his trial is pending (TT, April 1, 2005).Waitman wrote The Tico Times an email this week saying he had expected to start distributing investors’ money Monday, but postponed the transactions until yesterday or today because of a “snag with the bank.“Hang in there, we are as close now as we have ever been,” he wrote. He explained by phone earlier this month that he had arranged to distribute the money through a bank outside of Costa Rica, but would not disclose further details.One investor wrote The Tico Times in late September to say he and another investor had just paid Waitman $250 each and were told to wait 10 weeks. He said Waitman only accepted payment by Western Union, which concerned him.“We are now joining the rest of the investors in the waiting game,” he wrote.One group of investors is convinced Waitman is lying. The United Concerned Citizens and Residents (UCCR), a group of 650 investors who back the Villalobos brothers, claim to be in contact with Luis Enrique Villalobos via e-mail, and say he has not been caught (TT, May 20).The UCCR paid for advertising space in The Tico Times to publish a letter dated July 26, allegedly from Luis Enrique Villalobos (TT, Aug. 19). It maintains the brothers’ innocence, calling the legal process a “cock and bull story based on wretched interests that will one day come to light,” and oddly states “We shall go to trial with our heads held high,” though Villalobos, of course, has fled the legal process and cannot be tried in absentia. He also makes a now-familiar plea to investors that they not present legal complaints against the brothers; and asks those loyal to him to not to lose confidence.


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