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Saturday, February 24, 2024

Israeli investor accuses U.S. man of heading medical marijuana fraud

A U.S. businessman is accused of using Costa Rica’s medical marijuana bill to defraud an Israeli investor out of thousands of dollars, according to an official complaint filed by the investor, Offer Abitbul, earlier this month.

The U.S. citizen named in the complaint, Thomas Reeves, told The Tico Times he disputes the claims in the document – which, in a strange twist, also names a would-be Costa Rican presidential candidate who is apparently a former participant in the company involved.

For three years, lawmakers in the Legislative Assembly have debated Bill No. 19,256, which would effectively legalize medical marijuana in Costa Rica. However, it is no closer to passing into law today than it was when it was presented back in 2014.

According to Abitbul’s testimony to the Prosecutor’s Office, however, that didn’t stop Reeves, who used to live in Costa Rica, from promising a lucrative business deal where Abitbul could get his feet in the door of a supposedly growing industry for a $25,000 deposit.

The 54-year-old Abitbul, who works with medicinal marijuana in Israel, said Reeves contacted him and offered him a license to produce and sell the drug here in Costa Rica. After the two sides met last September in Reeves’ house in Escazú, according to a copy of the official complaint, Abitbul made three deposits totaling $25,000.

As part of the deal, Abitbul says, he was to be refunded half of his deposit if lawmakers did not pass the medical marijuana bill before November, 2016. They did not, but Abitbul says Reeves sent him a WhatsApp picture message with a supposed copy of the passed bill, complete with what appeared to be the signature of President Luís Guillermo Solís.

According to the complaint, Abitbul and his partner, Pamela, knew the bill had not been approved. Later, when they started investigating Reeves on their own, they found out the licenses that he had given them were not actually registered in Costa Rica. A representative from the Health Ministry told them the document had to be false because the country does not provide licenses to sell marijuana for medicinal purposes.

“After I realized that everything had been a scam and that everything about the business Thomas had made was a lie, I tried to communicate with him but he didn’t pick up my calls,” Abitbul’s complaint reads.

In an email response to The Tico Times, Reeves said he doesn’t understand why Abitbul has made these claims against him.

“Mr. Abitbul came to me and asked me if I could help him get his business started in Costa Rica and consult to help him get a license,” Reeves said in his email. “I explained to him I don’t sell license(s) but I can help obtaining land, an attorney, accountant and a growing facility.”

Reeves added that he helped set up a trust where Abitbul could put the deposit, but that Reeves has no control over the money located within that trust. According to documents presented to the Prosecutor’s Office, Mr. Abitbul’s son signed off on the trust, which was registered to TrustCo, an escrow service provider.

“I always thought that a person was innocent until proven guilty,” Reeves wrote. “This doesn’t seem the case here.”

Reeves is still registered as manager of a company called Greenleaf Holding Technologies, according to a records search done by The Tico Times. Also listed as part of the company’s management and mentioned in the complaint is Gerald Murray, even though he claims he resigned from Greenleaf in April of last year.

Murray, who is the director of the Costa Rica Medical Cannabis Movement, has testified before the Legislative Assembly advocating for the legalization of marijuana as medicine.

Murray is also preparing a presidential candidacy for next year’s elections as part of the Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC).

According to the legal complaint, Murray attended meetings with Reeves and Abitbul and also had direct contact via phone messages with Abitbul.

He responded to the allegations this week by posting a video on his presidential campaign’s Facebook page, calling the accusations “one of the most fictionalized stories made in the country’s history.” He says in the video that he never helped sell fake medical licenses and that there is nothing illegal about the contract made between Reeves and Abitbul.

“They make me out to be the brains behind this grand scam that involved lawmakers, businessmen, and government agencies,” Murray said in the video response. “I have nothing to do with this company [Greenleaf] since I resigned from there last April.”

Murray said he resigned from Greenleaf in order to begin his presidential bid for 2018.

In an interview with The Tico Times last year, Murray predicted the prospect of a medical marijuana industry in Costa Rica would generate a billion dollars in business.

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