Eleven North Americans were arrested in the United States and Costa Rica Tuesday suspected of running an international operation to cheat gullible, mostly elderly, U.S. citizens out of their cash by telling them they won huge sums of money, but that they must first send 1% of that amount to Costa Rica.
In raids on 17 houses, some of which operated clandestine “call centers,” Costa Rican and U.S. police seized $20 million as well as computers, bank statements and other documents they will use to investigate the case, explained Costa Rica’s Chief Prosecutor Francisco Dall’Anese at a press conference Tuesday.
The six people arrested in Costa Rica face deportation and have been identified by the last names Pileggi, Atilio, Mangarella, Kalchstein, Coyle and Kankrini, according to Judicial Branch communications director Fabián Barrantes.
Police suspect that people in both countries successfully ran a ring of fraud that has been under investigation by U.S. authorities since 2003. The operation allegedly worked by stopping people outside of shopping malls and supermarkets in the United States — mainly in the state of California — and asking them to fill out a form with their phone number and name to enter a drawing held by a U.S. government office, such as Customs, explained Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) Jorge Rojas.
These information gatherers received $3-4 for every name and phone number they sent to Costa Rica, where people working in call centers operating in houses that changed locations every two to three months, telephoned people in the United States and told them they had won anywhere from $450,000 to $4 million. The callers, using Voice-over-Internet-Protocol (VoIP) technology, then allegedly explained that in order for the “winners” to collect their money, they must first send an advance of 1% of their winnings to Costa Rica for insurance, tax and Customs purposes.
Approximately 300 Costa Ricans are suspected to have been receiving this money sent from the United States, filtering it through their private bank accounts and getting paid $20-30 for each transaction. Some “winners” in the United States sent up to $80,000, Rojas said.
Five call centers were raided Tuesday in the San José area – two in Escazú, two in Sabanilla and one in Rohrmoser, and six Canadians and U.S. citizens were arrested. Five other North Americans were arrested during simultaneous raids in the United States, and a Costa Rican lawyer living there who was arrested and charged with money laundering in October 2005 is suspected to be involved with the operation, Rojas said.
The Chief Prosecutor called the operation “successful” and said he hopes to carry out more joint investigations between Costa Rican and foreign police to “send a message to international criminals who come to Costa Rica that we will find them.”