Costa Rica Coffee Guide

Cell Phones Finding Way to Prison

March 7, 2008

Convicts inside La Reforma prison are extorting people by calling them on smuggled cell phones and threatening violence if they don’t pay up.

Authorities say the threats are not new and they are trying to stop the smuggling. Two employees, one from Casino Europa and another from the Royal Dutch Hotel, confirmed they filed complaints with the Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) Feb. 21. Carlos Cavero, one of the targets, published an account of the incident on his online blog, www.cavero.ws/blog, and posted audio recorded on his cell phone.

“A guy who represented himself as Luis…, a convict from inside La Reforma prison, told me he received a large sum of money and that two guys were following me on a motorcycle the whole day,”Cavero’s blog states.“He said if I didn’t want anything to happen to me or my family that I pay ‘something’ to the guys on the motorcycles that he was going to send for me any moment. Menacingly, he said if I didn’t believe him, he would send me some proof that he was serious.”

“Luis” has not yet followed through on the threat even though Cavero hung up on him. But Cavero is watching his back.He said he keeps a gun on him at all times and makes sure his wife and three sons stay holed away.

“My boys are very young. They wouldn’t understand, and I’m not even going to tell them,” he said. “Anyway, I have to continue with my daily life but of course armed and very cautious.”

Cavero is disillusioned with the police’s failure to respond to his complaint.

Two weeks after the complaints were filed, prosecutors still have not ordered the police to investigate.

Under Costa Rica’s system, OIJ takes the original extortion complaint and forwards it to a prosecutor’s office. But the police can’t investigate until a prosecutor’s office gives them permission.

Miguel, an employee at the prosecutor’s office who declined to give his last name, said the complaints hadn’t even shown up in their system.He said it takes 22 business days before complaints are entered into the system.

That means an investigation can’t even be initiated until at least one month after a complaint is filed.

“I guess they have to kill me first, then they will investigate,”Cavero said.“These and more (extorters) will assault me all night in this,my country, that is now the land of nobody.”

José Maleaño, chief fraud investigator for the OIJ, said the system shouldn’t work this way but it unfortunately does. He also said most people targeted don’t file police reports and just pay the money, an act he does not recommend.

“Most people just get afraid and make the deposit,” he said. “But they should just hang up and file a police report. They’re looking for easy targets and they don’t waste time. If you’re crying or paying them, they are going to keep coming after you.”

Maleaño said there have been instances where people working on the outside for the convicts have fired on or thrown Molotov cocktails at the homes of targets.

Maleaño recommends that targets of extortion by phone change their daily routines to keep any criminals off their trail.

Justice Ministry spokeswoman Emilia Segura said the problem at La Reforma prison is serious.

Three years ago, she said, convicts used public phones for extortion until the administration created an alert system on all calls to landline phones. Convicts then evolved to smuggling in cell phones, often in their rectums, to commit the crimes. She said it has happened more than once that an inmate had to be taken to a hospital to have a cell phone removed from his rear end.

Segura said a multimillion-dollar project to install a cell-signal blocking device is a potential solution, but it is one that has yet to be funded. She said the Justice Ministry was hoping the project would be funded in upcoming appropriations bills to be proposed by the executive branch.

 

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