Friday, January 10, 2014

Costa Rican Fraud-(Background Story)

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing"

Reader please take note. In this blog several lawyers and family members are accused of fraud but let me clearly state they have not been convicted in criminal court in Costa Rica yet. Therefore by law they are still innocent of all charges. This blog simply tells events that occurred and spells out the details of the criminal complaint all of which is accessible to the public through the courts or my lawyer. I encourage readers to form their own opinions about the guilt or innocence of the involved parties.
I will just tell a story.


Mom a few years before she died
My mother, Elizabeth Ravndal, was a thirty year resident of Costa Rica who loved the country and its people. She originally bought land over on the Nicoya Peninsula south of Playa Naranjo where the ferry from Puntarenas lands. The area is called Playa Blanca. She lived there with my step-father, Ola Ravndal, a Norwegian. I remember first visiting her in the early ‘80s and they were living in a shack on the beach before building on their property just inland. Over the years they moved around the country, next buying property northeast of Laguna De Arenal in agricultural country. Then as they got older they decided they needed to be closer to medical facilities and bought a place in Puntarenas. But Puntarenas is hot, and not a very attractive town so they moved to Tilaran in Guanacaste province.

Here they had a couple acres of land with two small houses and lots of fruit trees. My mother got busy as she always did, establishing a garden around the main house. The property, about 4 miles up the road from the town of Tilaran and close Lake Arenal is beautiful but remote, and much cooler and rainier than Puntarenas. By this time my mother had already been taking care of my step-father who suffered from Alzheimer’s for some years. His condition was so severe that at times he didn’t know who his wife was nor who I was when I came to visit. But in general, he was very peaceful, seemed happy, and of course was well-taken care of by my mother and her help. In fact, I worried more about her than him. She took care of everything and carried the stress.

And one thing that greatly added to that stress was her Tilaran property. She had bought the property from an American who lived up the road and dealt in real estate. The problem was that the property title was not clear. Most likely her lawyer at the time had not done a proper title search and investigation. Her property was one of a number of lots that at one point were owned by a group of people and somehow the issue was related to this. She went through several lawyers trying to resolve the problem. I remember numerous conversations over the phone with my mother and how depressed and stressed she was over this. Simply put she didn’t know what to do.

Eventually she found a solution which turned out to be one of the biggest mistakes of her life. Her good friends Bo (now dead) and Barbara Boeck, who currently live near Tambor on the Nicoya Peninsula introduced my mother to their lawyer Steve Lopez Elizondo. Lopez told my mother he could fix the problem but it would cost her $25,000. I tried to convince my mother this was an absolute rip off but in her depressed state she felt she had no other choice. And here began (around 2001-2002) the relationship with Steve Lopez, a predator, which ended at my mother’s death in March 2006. 

During the 5 1/2 month period prior to my mother's death (while she was bedridden/dying of terminal kidney disease), Steve Lopez and his daughter Monica (also a lawyer/notary) gained control of her two properties and most of her money. After my mother's death they simply kept all her financial assets. Currently, I have a continuing criminal case against Steve, Monica and a third defendant, Carlos Cubillo Vargas. Barbara Boeck also has two criminal cases against Steve Lopez.

About this blog

In the section ANATOMY OF FRAUD I chronologically detail the "accused" fraudulent legal maneuverings of Monica and Steve Lopez. It is a chronology that has taken years to piece together after numerous trips to Costa Rica, much research at National Registry, the Notary Department's Archives, attempts to translate various documents (thank you Google), interviews, the help of a translator and much more.

In the section STEVE LOPEZ  AND MONICA LOPEZ SUSPENSIONS AND COMPLAINTS I list the suspensions and compaints I know of against Steve and Monica Lopez. This is all part of the public record. In other sections are some stories of others in Costa Rica who have accused the Lopez clan of fraud. You will also find a section on MY LEGAL TEAM. Finally, on the SIDEBAR MENU: Costa Rican websites and links which relate to the accusations of my story and to help enable the reader to do some of their own research to protect against fraud.

Can you help?

Ultimately I'm looking for a Guardian Angel who has the financial or political power to help me achieve justice. A great scenario would be to have the financial backing to hire the most powerful Law Firm in Costa Rica to go after the accused, Steve and Monica Lopez. Meanwhile, of course I cannot stop readers from broadcasting my blog to everyone they know, especially Americans and Europeans living and investing in Costa Rica. And please share your stories and ideas with me. Thank you so much for reading this. Email me!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Anatomy of Fraud in Costa Rica Committed by Monica Lopez & Steve Lopez

Anatomy of Fraud
The medical report or “Dictamen” of my mother’s kidney specialist, Dr. Sanchez of Tilaran specifically stated her condition. The doctors report states my mother had terminal kidney disease also known as Stage 5. This report also stated what my sister and I knew, that my mother in front of her doctor refused the possible life prolonging but temporary alternatives of dialysis or kidney replacement. She was on a timetable to death and sadly this is how she wanted it to be.

Aware of this diagnosis and the upcoming visits of my sister and myself, Steve and Monica Lopez began a series of fraudulent “legal” maneuverings. And thus over a 5 ½ month period prior to my mother’s death on March 17, 2006 they gained control of all her assets.

September 28, 2005… Mom’s will notarized by Monica Lopez 

On this date my mother "supposedly" elaborated her will in front of Monica Lopez. (To be a notary in Costa Rica, which is an extremely powerful position much more so than in the United States, one has to be a lawyer in good standing.) This will basically states that my mother’s properties, her money, personal belongings etc. were to be equally divided between my sister and myself. What is interesting and sickening about this will is that Steve Lopez and his girlfriend, Karen Vanessa Rojas Vellorin are listed as witnesses. And another family member, Ernesto Jose Solano Soto, whose name appears on many other documents related to my mother, was named as a substitute executor of the will after me.

September 29, 2005… Documents indicate my mother sold her Miramar property

Background information: Monica and Steve Lopez convinced my mother that she should transfer her properties to a “new” company (Nineve Rent A Car) to protect her assets from taxes and a lawsuit in Punterenas filed against her. This she told me and this in fact Steve and Monica Lopez also told me. But what she didn’t realize and what my sister and I never knew until after exhaustive research long past her death, is that she sold her properties to Nineve Rent A Car before she became the president. And even when she became the president she was never given stocks in this company. You can be a president and not an owner. To be an owner you must have stocks. My mother went to her deathbed thinking she owned Nineve Rent A Car and thus her properties. She believed she had done the right thing to protect her assets to pass on to her family. How wrong she was.
The day after my mother’s will was notarized, documents also notarized by Monica Lopez show (9/29/05) my mother selling her Miramar property to Nineve Rent A Car.  My mother’s properties and assets were under her company name Hotel Playa Blanca (It is customary in Costa Rica for individuals to form companies under which they register their properties and assets. This offers some level of legal protection, the specifics of which I do not know.  For twenty plus years my mother's assest were listed under Hotel Playa Blanca).  Thus in this September 29th document, Hotel Playa Blanca is actually selling the Miramar property to Nineve Rent A Car. The document lists the President of Nineve Rent A Car as being Veronica Hidalgo (wife of Nelson Lopez Elizondo, brother of Steve Lopez). Research indicates Nineve Rent A Car was incorporated in 2004 with the officers and shareholders (owners) being Veronica Hidalgo and Nelson Lopez.

September 30, 2005... Documents indicate my mother sold her Tilaran property

Just one day after selling her Miramar property, documents notarized once again my Monica Lopez indicate my mother (via Hotel Playa Blanca) selling her Tilaran property in which she currently lived to Nineve Rent A Car. Both properties are listed as being each sold for 100,000 colones (less than $200US). So Nineve Rent A Car and Steve Lopez’s relatives purchase a five bedroom home in Miramar and two houses and two acres of land in Tilaran all for $400.

October 1, 2005... My mother becomes President of Nineve Rent A Car

On this date a document notarized by Monica Lopez Solano shows my mother became the new president of Nineve Rent A Car after she had already sold her properties. Steve Lopez was listed as the new secretary, Karen Vanessa Rojas Vellorin-treasurer  and Ernesto Solano Soto-fiscal.

In this document there is no mention of which officers have power of attorney to act. Later, in November the Lopez clan filed a document at the National Registry stating that the president (my mother) and the secretary (Steve Lopez) of Nineve Rent A Car both had full powers of attorney (Poder Generalissimo).

Poder Generalisimo or general powers of attorney is the most powerful “power of attorney” one can have. In essence, one who has these powers can do anything with a companies assets. Translation: When my mother died Steve Lopez could do anything he wanted with any assets tied to Nineve Rent A Car. This includes properties and any money tied to Nineve Rent A Car.


Relative to all this my mother only received from Monica Lopez on her Bufete L & L letterhead (dated 12/05) something stating she (Elizabeth White Ravndal) was president of Nineve Rent A Car with full powers (Poder Generalisimo. There is no mention that Steve Lopez had Poder Generalisimo in this letter.

November-December 2005… Monica Lopez & Steve Lopez gain control of my mother’s money
In the fall my sister visited my mother. The Lopez clan was getting nervous. Family members were starting to appear. After this visit the Lopez clan had my mother cash at least three certificates of deposit (totaling US 135,000) that I later became aware of. Two of these cd’s were from the Banco Cathay (I was listed as the beneficiary) and the third from Coopemex listed under Hotel Playa Blanca (I was listed as the beneficiary).
Why would my mother do this? Firstly, I remind the reader that my mother was bedridden, dying of kidney failure, deeply depressed and confused at times. She trusted Monica and Steve Lopez. In the past she had lent Mr. Lopez US 25,000 to house his wife in a private hospital for the best care before his wife died. Also, in the months prior to my mom’s death the visits of Steve and Monica Lopez increased with Monica bringing her chocolates (her favorite) and Steve Lopez professing she was like a second mother to him.

This is how fraud occurs with the elderly and sick. They are vulnerable, they are lonely and they are often dying. Steve Lopez promised my mother a much greater rate of interest than the banks could offer. He drew up an accounting sheet with a monthly interest payment schedule. They gave my mother a copy, of two different Letra De Cambio’s which is basically an exchange note indicating the sum of US 135,000 dollars borrowed, an interest rate offered and payback dates. Firstly, a copy of a Letra De Cambio has no legal value. Secondly, it was made out to guess who: Nineve Rent A Car and signed by Steve Lopez. And who had full powers of attorney in Nineve Rent A Car when my mother died?

January 14, 2006…I visited my mother in her house in Tilaran

It was a shocking sight to see my mother essentially this skeleton like old lady with loose folds of skin hanging off her arms. She talked about wanting to die and referred to a Norwegian friend of hers also living in Costa Rica who I had once met that had starved herself to death. To see and hear these things coming from the mother you remember as a child, vital and beautiful is a truly sad and depressing experience.

We did talk about financial matters and the inheritance that my sister and I were to receive. My mother had me look at various documents, all in Spanish and not really understandable to me. I also did some research and talked to a reputable lawyer in Tilaran who said he could not recommend “Mr. Lopez.” I made a presentation to my mother about my concerns who in turn started crying while telling me she had done the best she could for us. And that she felt she had to trust Monica and Steve Lopez.

I admit I was naïve and did not stand up for my instincts but I cannot take the knowledge I have now back to that time. And when you are facing your emotionally depressed, dying mother whose kidney disease led her to be constantly scratching herself you hit a wall. She did not have the emotional bearing or the mental faculties to question or re-examine anything related to her assets and what Steve and Monica Lopez had been up to. My time ended and I had to go back to work. Later my sister flew down. She was there when my mother died on March 17. I then flew back down to help my sister and deal with my mother's death.

March 27, 2006… Meeting with Steve and Monica Lopez to discuss inheritance

We met with Monica and Steve Lopez and their interpreter Mario Fernandez Fernandez at my mother’s house. Steve Lopez refused to let our interpreter join the meeting and she waited outside. It was a very intimidating environment and my sister and I were still dealing with our mother’s death. If we had been stronger and wiser we would have kicked the Lopez clan out of my mom’s house and immediately sought out legal council. But we didn’t and it is hard to explain to someone on the outside the vulnerable feeling and confusion we felt. But this is why predators like Monica and Steve Lopez are so successful.

Monica Lopez showed us a copy of my mother’s will. Senor Lopez went into a long discussion on how my mother’s assets would be passed on to us and things began to look bleaker and bleaker. Monica passed over two new Letras De Cambios to us made out to my sister and myself totally US 135,000. Knowing nothing about such instruments at this point we said nothing. They were unsigned, not originals and valueless. Ah the stupid gringos! I can only imagine that the Lopez clan was having a great laugh as they began to think how they would spend my mother’s money. (Afterall, while Monica Lopez presented us with a will, the Lopez clan had already taken the majority of my mother's assets. Not only this but Ms. Lopez did not register the original will until 3 1/2 years later after pressure from my notary complaint.)

Ceremony for my mother
My sister and I held a ceremony for our mother. We decided to make it a celebration believing she would prefer this to some sad and somber funeral. We invited Ticos that had worked for my mother,  and many others. Also present was Steve Lopez. We were trying to be diplomatic by inviting him and during the party soon learned that among many of the local Ticos, Senor Lopez was quite hated. Lopez had also brought along Ernesto Solano Soto and Karen Vanessa Rojas Vellorin. At this point I did not know who these two characters were or the role they played in the fraud against my mother.

I flew back to the US

I flew home to work. My sister followed shortly thereafter to pack up her house in Florida. She was determined to live in mom’s Tilaran house for a year and try and protect our inheritance. She returned in late April and found out from Coopemex bank that Steve Lopez with his power of attorney had cashed a US 26,000 cd (from my mother’s account) earlier that month.

June 2006…Steve Lopez sells mom’s Miramar house

Steve Lopez, without our knowledge, sold my mother’s Miramar property to someone named Carlos Ovidio Cubillo Vargas. Research done by Ricardo Lankester, one of our lawyer’s determined the property was sold for about $200. Lankester called Vargas a “turk” or really a go between allowing Lopez to sell the property. The Miramar property is now owned by a third property and because of the weaknesses of Costa Rican law it is hard to go after third parties in real estate scams.

A summary of events since June 2006

Initially after the March 27, 2006 meeting with the Lopez clan there was some contact between my sister and these two lawyers. The contact got more contentious and at one point Steve Lopez flat out stated he controlled everything and my sister would do as he said. He told her he could easily have her kicked out of the Tilaran house. Soon enough all contact ended.
Lankester initially started a civil case against Steve Lopez but decided a criminal case was the way to go. Meanwhile he established my sister as the executor of our mother’s estate. He later brought on the criminal lawyer Panfilo Ramirez. A criminal case was finally submitted in 2007. I continued to fly down to Costa Rica several times a year to keep my case alive. I was extremely frustrated to ask my lawyer and the prosecutor to gather specific evidence (such as bank records) and for witnesses to be interviewed only to see nothing happen. The case is now in Canas (Guanacaste) and we are now on our sixth prosecutor. Bit by bit with each new prosecutor I have been able to push the case forward. But it is the weaknesses in the Costa Rica legal system that Monica and Steve Lopez count on. The criminal prosecutors and courts are simply overwhelmed.

      Complaints filed at the Notary Department and Bar Association

At the end of 2008 and early 2009 I personally wrote and submitted (in Spanish…thank you Google translation) two complaints, one at the Colegio De Abogados (bar association) and the other at the notary department. The colegio complaint is still active. The notary complaint is closed because of two things. The first being what is called prescription. This is something no one told me about. If the events and facts of the complaint happen more than two years in the past the notary department can throw out the complaint. So my complaint against Steve Lopez ended due to prescription. My complaint against Monica Lopez continued for awhile because I complained that she never registered my mother's will nor did she register her notary protocol book as required by law. And so these issues were not covered by prescription. Eventually my notary complaint forced her to register the will and her protocol book finally on June 2009. This resulted in the complaint ending.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Steve Lopez Elizondo and Monica Lopez official suspensions and criminal and civil cases against Steve and Monica Lopez


Steve Lopez Elizondo
Cedula:5-0164-0784
Carne: 9792
Licensed by Bar 2/99
Licensed by Notary Dept. 4/99
Monica Lopez Solano
Cedula: 1-1111-0673
Carne: 14601
Licensed by Bar: 8/2003
Licensed by Notary Dept: 4/2004



                                      


                            
                                   

The law firm through which they operate is: Bufete L & L Consultores Juridicos Interdisciplinarios S.A. located in Alajeulah near San Jose. Cedula Juridica: 3-101-221-821. Monica Lopez's "linkedin" profile (www.linkedin.com networking websites for professionals) listed her as owner but now (1/14) lists her as associate director. So whose the owner since Steve Lopez is suspended from practicing law?

Mr. Lopez has achieved a certain fame at the Colegio de Abogados (Costa Rica's Bar Association for lawyers). The colegio (www.abogados.or.cr/) is the organization that has the legal authority "to apply disciplinary measures" to lawyers who have violated the Code of Ethics.

Mr. Lopez is currently suspended by the bar association until July 2014. (Note: S. Lopez has received another six month suspension and assuming his appeal fails he will be in effect suspended until January 2015.) Publicly available research indicates that this is Mr. Lopez’s fourth suspension (see sidebar for Lopez suspensions) by the Colegio de Abogados.

According to one of my lawyers, Ricardo Lankester, Mr. Lopez also has an unprecedented number of complaints filed against him with the colegio. Complaints do not necessarily result in suspensions. These complaints have occurred in a relatively short time period. Although Mr. Lopez is 56 years old (2012) he only received his law degree in 1998 (?) and was licensed by the bar on February 1999.

Many lawyers in Costa Rica are also notaries. In fact, to practice as a notary you have to be a lawyer in good standing. Mr. Lopez received an indefinite suspension from the notary department starting May 2007 (image below). Now that he has been suspended by the bar association again, by default his notary suspension should extend at least until May 2014 and probably until 2015.

These suspensions do not necessarily have an impact on Mr. Lopez’s activities as he uses his daughter, Monica Lopez Solano to act as his notary. Monica Lopez was suspended by the notary department in 2009 and because of the one month suspension by the colegio in 2010, if her appeal is denied she'd be suspended by the notary department again. Keep in mind she was also named in the Colegio de Abogados complaint that resulted in Mr. Lopez’s four year suspension but he argued "successfully" she was not involved and her name was dropped from the case.


Costa Rican notaries have enormous power in Costa Rica and a notary is required to create and register legal documents. Notaries are overseen by the government agency: National Notary Directorate (Direccion Nacional de Notariado).

 
"In a civil law system such as Costa Rica, the Notary Public plays an important function within the legal system. To be a Public Notary in Costa Rica you must be a licensed Attorney and authorized before the National Notary Directorate. The Directorate was created by the Notary Code (Codigo Notarial) in 1998 and is in charge of oversight and discipline of practicing Notaries." Roger Petersen



THE LATEST SUSPENSION AGAINST MONICA AND STEVE LOPEZ


The Colegio de Abogados in April 2010 ruled against Monica and Steve Lopez. Monica Lopez received a one month suspension and Steve Lopez received a six month suspension. The original complaint against the Lopez clan was filed by the penal courts in Punterenas. Basically the complaint accused Monica and Steve Lopez of “intentionally” missing a hearing. I don’t know whose case this was related to. However, I believe that Monica and Steve Lopez appealed the suspensions (their usual stall tactic) and that appeal is under review. If the suspensions are confirmed Monica will be suspended as a lawyer and Steve Lopez's six month suspension will be added to his current four year suspension. Therefore he will be suspended until January 2015. Below you will see some text from the Colegio de Abogados minutes regarding this suspension.

5.3.25 Expediente Nº: 246-08. Denunciado: Lic. Mónica López Solano y Lic. Steve López Elizondo. Denunciante: De oficio (Juzgado Penal de Puntarenas).

SE ACUERDA 2010-16-058 Se recomienda en relación a la licenciada Mónica López Solano: Declarar con lugar la denuncia e imponerle la sanción de disciplinaria de un mes de suspensión en el ejercicio de la abogacía. En relación al licenciado Steve López Elizondo: Declarar con lugar la denuncia e imponerle la sanción de disciplinaria de seis meses de suspensión en el ejercicio de la abogacía. Diez votos. Responsable: Fiscalía. Plazo: Inmediato.


A GENERAL SUMMARY OF CASES AND COMPLAINTS AGAINST THE LOPEZ CLAN

This is by no means a complete list of criminal and civil cases and complaints against Monica and Steve Lopez. I offer my apologies and welcome them to provide more information to complete the list.

#1 Steve Lopez currently has a civil case against him in Punterenas. This case (Expediente: 07-100476-0642-CI.) was presented by lawyer Jaimie Quintana representing Lenny Iacono (an American living in Montezuma and the owner of the Sano Banano and Ylang Ylang Resort). Lopez failed to show up to a prelimnary hearing on July 19, 2013.

#2 Steve Lopez has a criminal case (Expediente: 07-200129-591-PE) against him in Punterenas. This case comes from Bo and Barbara Boeck of Tambor. As mentioned before Steve Lopez was formally their lawyer but they had a “falling out.” Within this case the Punterenas judge also filed a complaint with the Colegio de Abogados because Steve Lopez failed to show up at a hearing. He cited his usual excuse...medical issues. Somehow the colegio bought it and he was not suspended.

#3 Steve Lopez has another criminal case (Expediente 10-200127-591PE) against him in Cobano. This case is also from Bo & Barbara Boeck.

#4 Steve  Lopez has another criminal case against (Expediente 01-200163-591-PE) against him in Punterenas. Don't know the details but there is a second defendant named Roberto Antonio Hernandez Arroyo. I think that Monica Lopez is acting as his lawyer because the court registered a complaint with the colegio de abogados (Exp. 246-08) because they did not show up to the preliminary hearing.

#5 Steve and Monica Lopez have my criminal case (Expediente 07-001377-305-PE) against them in Canas.

#4 Steve and Monica Lopez have my ongoing complaint against them with the Colegio de Abogados.

#5 Monica Lopez had my  complaint against her at the notary department. This complaint originally included Steve Lopez but the charges against him were dropped because of “prescription.” As I mentioned in a previous blog my complaint against Monica Lopez ended because she finally registered my mother's will in June 2009, more than three years after she died.

Please note that there have been several other complaints filed against Monica Lopez with the notary and bar associations. To view the background of these complaints I believe you need to have a lawyer to read the case files. To view current suspensions with the notary or bar association you simply go to these web sites and you’ll have to plug in their names or “carne” number. I don’t know how you can access the history of suspensions for a lawyer/notary at the notary department. However, anyone can go to the Colegio de Abogados office in San Jose, pay a small fee and receive a certified copy (certifica) of a lawyer’s history. This will include when they were licensed and suspensions but only for the last five years.

COSTA RICAN LEGAL SYSTEM AND JUSTICE STALLED BY STEVE AND MONICA LOPEZ

Monica and Steve Lopez use a variety of tactics to avoid justice. The first tactic is avoidance. Any criminal, civil or notary and colegio complaint start out with a notification to the accused parties. Notice has to be served and if you can’t find them notification cannot be delivered. This can take weeks, months and more. (To further complicate this the various departments don’t work together. For example my notary complaint notification was delivered with success relatively quickly. However, the Colegio de Abogados couldn’t find Monica and Steve Lopez to notify them. It wasn’t until I gave them the addresses I saw on the notary notification that they were successful in finding the Lopez clan.)

Secondly, as in the case with a notary complaint after notification is served there is usually a time frame in which the accused must respond to the complaint. This response can be delayed. In relation to a criminal case, the accused has to appear at the fiscalía office (prosecutor’s) but only has to sign a paper and then can walk out. This in fact is the only thing Steve Lopez and Monica Lopez  have ever done related to my criminal complaint. They have not defended themselves against my complaint or given any explanation for taking all my mother's property and money. They are simply playing the waiting game because they know the criminal court system is in disarray. And so far their bet is has paid off.

In the case of civil cases, notary and colegio complaints the accused can submit various appeals which further stalls the process. For example,  Monica and Steve Lopez  filed 2-3 appeals against my notary complaint. The first appeal was ten typed pages and included references to my being a “foreigner” and saying the complaint should be discontinued because it was filed with the use of improper spanish. Each appeal has to then be ruled on which of course takes up more time. Finally, if there is a hearing Monica and Steve Lopez might simply not show up as in the case mentioned earlier with the Punterenas Penal Court, and as was the case at the second hearing for my notary complaint in October 2010 when it was still active.

Other tactics are countersuits and filing false charges (for example in January 2008 Mr. Lopez contacted the OIJ and filed a complaint (Expediente: 001-08-00302) saying he received a death threat from a certain person on behalf of a group of people. All the names of the people he listed to the OIJ were people (europeans/americans) who had cases and complaints against him.

Finally, Monica and Steve Lopez know that many of the people who accuse them of fraud will not file complaints. And this is one of the reasons they pick on foreigners. Foreigners usually don’t have great spanish language skills, don’t know the law and in some cases don’t have the money and time to go after the Lopez clan.

EXAMPLES OF OFFICIAL SUSPENSION LETTERS FOR STEVE LOPEZ

Below are two “certificas” from the colegio. The first lists a one month and a one year suspensión for Steve Lopez. The second lists the one year suspensión (2006-2007) again, a four year suspensión (2010-2014) and the latest six month suspension (July 2014-January 2015). The third document lists the indefinite suspensión for Mr. Lopez from the notary department.

Steve Lopez-Colegio De Abogados Suspensions


                                         
                  
                              Steve Lopez-Notary Suspension

                                                                                                                                                                                                         

MY COMPLAINTS FILED AGAINST MONICA LOPEZ AND STEVE LOPEZ

Criminal Complaint: Expediente  Penal: 07-001377-305-PE
Notary Complaint: Expediente Juzgado Notarial: 08-001244-627-NO
Bar Association Complaint: Expediente Colegio De Abogados: 060-09

I personally filed in Spanish as required by law (thank you Google) two complaints against Monica and Steve Lopez. One with the Juzgado Notarial and the other with the Colegio de Abogados. These were filed the end of 2008 and early 2009. In order to file these I made multiple visits to the Notary Dept. and the Colegio to learn the procedure for filing. In most cases communication occurred with my limited spanish. Then I had to read and in part translate the articles of ethics related to being a lawyer and notary. Then in my complaints I included what articles I thought Monica and Steve Lopez had violated along with attaching supporting evidence. Anyone can do this without a lawyer, it just takes a lot of work and follow up.

These two complaints for several years withstood mutliple appeals by the Lopez clan. Unfortunately, the notary complaint has ended as discussed previously. My complaint submitted to the colegio de abogados is still in process but the colegio has ruled that it will wait to see what happens with my criminal complaint. My criminal complaint moves forward like a slow and patient turtle.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

My Legal Team-Ricardo Lankester and Panfilo Ramirez


Panfilo Ramirez Obando

Cedula 1-0583-0075
Carne 1717
Licensed by bar: 9/14/1977
Licensed as notary: 4/10/1978

Charles Ricardo Lankester Jimenez

Cedula 1-299-455
Carne 2011
Licensed by bar: 9/6/1979
Licensed as notary: 10/15/1979

                                                                                                              


 
                                                                           
   
Mr. Lankester was our first lawyer. He was recommended to my sister by my mother’s good friends Bo and Barbara Boeck who had also introduced my mother to Steve Lopez.

Mr. Lankester’s grandfather was an Englishman who came to Costa Rica and married a Tica. Lankester Gardens, just north of San Jose is named after the grandfather who donated this gardens which he created.

Ricardo is a very charming guy, well educated and speaks English better than most Americans. He initially was going to file a civil suit against Monica and Steve Lopez but then decided that a criminal complaint would be better. Since he is not a criminal lawyer he brought Panfilo Ramirez into the picture.

Ricardo is more or less retired at this point but Mr. Ramirez is a lawyer at Consultores Juridicos Especializados in San Jose specializing in criminal law.

Timeline of events related to my case

April 20, 2007. The criminal complaint against Steve and Monica Lopez was registered at the fiscalia (prosecutor’s office) in Alajeulah.

July 2007. Liens were placed on my mother’s properties in Tilaran and Miramar with a notation that a criminal case was pending, after multiple emails and requests to my lawyers.

August 2007. Steve Lopez went into the fiscalia in Alajeulah signed a piece of paper acknowledging the criminal complaint and said he would represent himself. The fiscal or prosecutor, realizing that he was suspended as a lawyer said he could not represent himself. Lopez has done nothing else in relation to the criminal complaint. He has not addressed the complaint nor defended himself. He assumes with time the case will be dropped or forgotten.

September 2007. The fiscalia in Alajeulah determined that the case belonged in Canas based on the argument that my mother lived in Tilaran near Canas and that the Tilaran property was also near Canas.

Sometime in 2007 and early 2008 my lawyers Panfilo Ramirez and Ricardo Lankester had me sign papers giving them Poder Judicial (special powers) to file complaints at the notary and bar association against Monica and Steve Lopez.

September 2008. The OIJ (essentially like the FBI) filed a report at the request of the prosecutor in Canas. The OIJ was supposed to help the fiscal gather evidence. The report was pathetic. The OIJ reported that they had not secured my mother’s bank records from Coopemex or Banco Cathay. It said I lived in Chicago. I have never been to Chicago. The report went on to say that the OIJ didn’t know how to contact various witnesses and that they were having trouble contacting my lawyer, Panfilo Ramirez. There were so many holes and inadequacies in this report it is truly sad.

Late 2008 and early 2009 given my lawyers had not filed complaints at the notary department nor the bar association I went ahead and personally wrote and filed complaints against Monica and Steve Lopez. These complaints are still in process except the following: The notary complaint was against both Steve Lopez and Monica Lopez. But due to something called "prescription" which means that if a certain number of years pass from the year when the charges of the complaint actually occurred the complaint is dropped due to "prescription." Of course, no one at the notary department nor my lawyers warned me about "prescription." The notary charge against Steve Lopez was dropped due to prescription and the charges against Monica Lopez eventually were dropped after she registered my mother's will and her protocol book.


Early 2009 the fiscal or my local prosecutor in Canas, Abraham Jiron decided that the jurisdiction for my criminal complaint should actually be in Alajeulah. This is after I personally met with him on several occasions trying to bring attention to my case, including a meeting where he said he thought he would present an indictment soon. So Jiron then decides to clear his desk by trying to send the case back to Alajuela.  Thus for at least half a year my case was in limbo as Canas and Alajeulah argued over jurisdiction. Finally the decision was made for the case to stay in Canas.

During this time, as always I stayed in contact with phone calls and emails to the prosecutors office. Occassionally I got through. I informed my lawyers that Canas/Alajuela were playing ping pong with my case, and that there was yet a new prosecutor (Glorianna Chaves). Mrs. Chaves was soon on maternity leave so the case was in limbo again.

November 2009. I was doing research at the National Archives (where all the documents from Notaries are kept) when I discovered that Monica Lopez had for the first time filed my mother’s will on June 2009. Again this was 3 ½ years after my mother died. I assume this was as a result of my notary complaint that stated she never filed my mother’s will. Of course I presented this information to the prosecutor's office and also to my lawyer Panfilo Ramirez.

Fast forward. It is now January 2014. Since 2011 two more prosecutors and one interim prosecutor have come and gone. As of November 2013 there is a new prosecutor and the gods willing this one will last awhile. And we are making progress...something is happening!





Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Milly Anz Story: Defrauded by Monica Antoineta Lopez Solano and Steve Lopez Elizondo

Editor’s note: I heard about Milly Anz through several sources. Her story sounded somewhat similar to Sonja Sheasley’s story as well as my own. Through online research I found information related to her complaint against Monica and Steve Lopez filed with the Colegio de Abogados. These sources list the events that occurred that resulted in Milly Anz filing a complaint. Ms. Anz’s complaint is part of the public record and her complaint resulted in a four year suspension for Steve Lopez by the Colegio de Abogados. She did not have the money to pursue a civil complaint.

Milly Anz is the owner of Luna Llena (www.lunallenahotel.com), a bungalow style hotel on the hillside just outside of the town of Montezuma. Her neighbors were in the middle of construction which involved the movement of earth on a slope that led up to Ms. Anz’s property. Her concern was that this activity might undermine the stability of her land. Someone recommended that she call Steve Lopez who agreed to visit her in June 2003 after she deposited $1,000 retainer in his account. Eventually Lopez had Ms. Anz sign a contract that involved a $15,000 fee to resolve the “problem” but if her case went to court then the fee would be $55,000. On July 4, 2003 Ms. Anz transferred $15,000 to the account of Monica Lopez Solano for Mr. Lopez. Various promises were made by Mr. Lopez and his daughter Monica Lopez that the “problem” would be taken care of. What is interesting to note is that the neighboring property was owned by Maria Antonieta Consentino under the company SPAM S.A. Unknown to Ms. Anz was the fact that Steve and Monica Lopez had a long standing relationship with Ms. Consentino and Steve Lopez had a lawyer client relationship with Ms. Consentino along with various business partnerships in real estate. Since this time period Ms. Consentino was found murdered in her home. The guilty party or parties have not been apprehended.

In Ms. Anz complaint she states that after Steve Lopez requested an additional $15,000 and after she saw that nothing was being accomplished as promised she sought out the advice of another lawyer. This lawyer told her not to pay Steve Lopez anymore money and in fact sent Mr. Lopez a letter on August 4, 2003. After receiving this letter, according to Milly Anz’s complaint, Steve Lopez threatened to throw her out of the country and take her property. (In a similar manner, Steve Lopez threatened my sister who was living on our mother’s Tilaran property after our mother’s death.)

On August 19, 2003 Milly Anz met with Steve Lopez in Montezuma to sign a new contract with promises that her concerns with the neighbors property construction would be taken care of. Another meeting between Ms. Anz and Steve Lopez was set for May 15, 2004 but Mr. Lopez sent his daughter Monica Lopez in his place. So now, close to a year had passed and still nothing had been accomplished except Monica and Steve Lopez had approximately $16,000 from Milly Anz.

At this point Ms. Anz retained the services of San Jose Lawyer, Guido Sanchez Canessa who filed a complaint with the Colegio de Abogados on her behalf listed as Expediente 381-04 in 2004.

In appealing this complaint Steve Lopez argued that his daughter Monica Lopez had nothing to do with his legal dealings with Ms. Anz and thus assumed all responsibility to protect his daughter. Unfortunately, the colegio took her off the complaint. Eventually the colegio ruled that Mr. Lopez would have to return the money to Milly Anz or face a long term suspension as a lawyer. He refused to return Ms. Anz’s money. The colegio ruled that Lopez would be suspended as a lawyer for four years. He appealed  that ruling in higher court and lost. Close to six years had passed between when Milly Anz and Guido Sanchez Canessa first filed a complaint and the final ruling. Steve Lopez was once again suspended as a practicing lawyer (and therefore also as a notary though he was already suspended as a notary) starting July 6, 2010 and ending July 5, 2014.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

An Overview of Costa Rican Law & Procedures

Costa Rican Law
The information included here, giving you an outline of Costa Rica’s government and legal structure, comes from “The Legal Guide to Costa Rica” by Roger A. Petersen. It is written in English and is a very valuable tool for understanding CR legal procedures.Costa Rica’s civil law system comes from the Romans who compiled their written laws into codes. The earliest codification of these laws was the Code of Justinian. This code inspired three of the “most influential modern legal codes.” French, German and Swiss.
The basis of Latin American codes comes from the French Napoleonic Code.

Civil law versus common law. US uses common law which is based on case law generated by the court system. Civil law comes from legislatures enactments. However differences reduced over the years. For example, there’s a wider use of codification in the US in the “form of federal and state statutes.”

On the other hand countries like Costa Rica begin to publish their case law known as Jurisprudencia. From late 1800s to early 1900s CR developed new legal codes and revised existing ones drawing from France, Spain, Chile, Mexico and Argentina.

In CR the decision of appellate court is not necessarily binding on the lower courts. The decisions of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court are binding on all lower courts.

Bulk of CR law can be found in the following codes:

#1 Civil Code
#2 Commercial Code
#3 The Labor Code
#4 The Family Code
#5 Code of Civil Procedure
#6 Code of Criminal Procedure (closely modeled German procedural code)
#7 Penal Code

Structure of the Government
#1 The Executive Branch: President, he appoints two vice presidents and 20 cabinet officers who head the various ministries. Ex. Ministry of Justice.

#2 The Legislative Branch: 57 deputies elected by province.

#3 Judicial Branch: Judicial power vested in the Supreme Court of Justice. This is the court of last resort as the CR system is composed of trial and appellate courts.

A. Trial and lower courts.

1. Trial Courts: Majority of litigation go through trial court system (Juzgados). These are either civil or criminal (juzgado penal).

2. Lower Courts: for ex. Small claims courts (landlord/tenant)

B. Appellate Courts (Tribunales Superiores). They have jurisdiction over a lower court that has a right to an appeal.

C. The Supreme Court is in San Jose and divided into 4 chambers. Third chamber for example has jurisdiction over criminal matters. (Sala Tercera).

#4 Local Government. CR is divided into 7 provinces. These provinces are divided into 81 Cantons which are further divided into 463 districts.

#5 The Constitution. Central American Constitution modeled after US. After 1948 CR passed the Political Constitution of the Republic of CR (1949). (The constitution guarantees access to private citizens to information from government offices that are not classified as state secrets.

National Registry: is where most documents must be filed. Different sections like Bienes Muebles handles cars, boats. The “persons” section handles powers of attorney, documents related to individuals. Mercantile section handles corporate formation and modifications, commercial transactions. This registry can be accessed by internet to look up property titles and if there are any liens or legal holds on a certain property. The same thing can be done for cars and other property. It is also possible to find out information on a certain individual if you have their cedula number. You have to dig around.


The Criminal Justice System…(This section relates to my case which is a criminal case.)
The Penal Code: What constitutes a crime is what the legislature has defined as such. Costa Rican Penal Code. A crime is either a felony (delito) punishable by imprisonment or a misdemeanor (contravencion) punishable by a monetary fine. Penal code breaks things down into 16 categories.

One category is Offenses against property including fraud. “Obtaining a financial benefit from one person by concealing or creating false representations that are relied upon by that person to their detriment. Prison sentence can range from 2 months to 3 years. Fraudulent Transfer which occurs when a person enters into a contract, transaction or judicial pleading which are done to deprive another of their intended benefits.” Fraudulent Administration and Unlawful Detainer. F. Administration “arises in the context of corporate entities….” Unlawful Detainer when there is legal obligation to return an item or property and holder refuses to do so.” Another category is Financia; crimes….when one takes advantage of the inexperience of another for gain (read 25k charge for Tilaran title correction). Another category “Offenses against public faith. Charged against those who alter, modify, falsify public documents…prison sentence up to 6 years.

Criminal Practice and Procedure

The law comes from Code of Criminal Procedure (codigo Procesal Penal). All investigative functions are carried out by prosecutor. “The reality is that if you file a criminal complaint you better hire your own attorney to actually investigate, gather necessary evidence and interact with the prosecutor. Every month cases are dismissed because prosecutors couldn’t get them to trial before the statue of limitations expires.

The Police force that conducts criminal investigations is the Judicial Investigation Bureau (Organismo de Investigacion Judicial) under the control of Ministry of Justice. The OIJ works under direction and control of the prosecutor. This includes gathering evidence.

The prosecutor (Fiscal) is under the Public Ministry (Ministerio Publico). Prosecutorial offices (fiscalias) are divided by territories. Specialized units within these offices.

The accused is called the “imputado.” If accused is flight risk judge may hold him.

The victim has the right to participate in the criminal proceedings and must be notified about any court rulings that conclude the case and can appeal nay findings that dismiss a criminal charge. The victim, their heirs or beneficiaries may file a civil action for restitution and damages within the criminal case. This is known as Accion Civil Resarcitoria and is heard by the same criminal judge. That judge will also rule on this and on amount of restitution and damages.

The Criminal Complaint
#1-A Called a Denuncia. Once down the Public Ministry must investigate. Denuncia can be filed in writing or orally. “Depending on the situation and the type of crime charged it is preferred that the criminal complaint be filed in writing setting forth the facts alleged to constitute the criminal offense, the alleged perpetrator of the offense and location of any evidence. It can also set forth the criminal laws violated…giving the prosecutor a good starting block.

B- Once prosecutor has gathered evidence and interrogated witnesses it will serve a summons to appear upon the accused.

C- Now the prosecutor decides if there is sufficient evidence to warrant a formal indictment or if charges should be dismissed. If he goes forward he must draft a formal indictment (acusacion) which is then filed in criminal court requesting a trial for the offenses charged. The basis for the indictment must be presented to a judge in a preliminary hearing (prosecutor and defense council are present. Prior to this both parties can review all procedures and evidence. If judge approves indictment the accused must stand trial and we move to the secondary stage called the Intermediary Phase.

#2-Intermediary Procedure and Trial Phase. First an attempt to resolve the criminal indictment otherwise steering towards trail date and narrowing the issues. If defendant enters guilty pea at this point he only has to serve 1/3 of minimum sentence. This is called abbreviated procedure and Prosecutor and accuser must agree to this. Prosecutor can also request to grant immunity to one of the accused for their cooperation against another accused. At this stage there is also the option for “conciliation.” If parties agree then case dismissed. If the case continues Judge sets a trial date.

The trial itself is public and both sides must orally set forth their cases. Three panel judges retire to deliberate. Then give a verdict. Verdict sets forth the basis for the court’s decision and legal principles. Then comes sentencing. The decision of the Criminal Court may be appealed to a Superior Tribunal which in turn can be appealed to the Third Chamber of the Supreme Court which hears only criminal appeals.

Statute of limitations…if there is no prison sentence it is 2 years. If it carries a prison sentence than 3 years. However, the statute of limitations is cut in half when the accused is called before the prosecutor to render a statement against the charges. So if the statute was for example 3 years it now becomes 1 ½ years. This is a bummer and many cases get thrown out.


The Rules Of Court Procedure…(This section relates to civil cases rather than criminal cases. I include this information as some of Steve and Monica Lopezs’ victims have filed civil cases.)
Litigation is governed from beginning to end by trial judge. They may interrogate witnesses and order evidence. Declarations in writing are necessary and the judge rules in writing. No jury trials.

In general cases a judge will have “jurisdiction over cases where a defendant is domiciled in CR, where the claim is based… Case loads are distributed according to subject matter and amount involved.

When a lawsuit is filed three different procedural tracks: ordinary, abbreviated and summary procedures (depends on subject matter).

Ordinary Procedure
#1- A lawsuit is intiated by filing in the proper court a complaint. This must contain the name of the parties to the action. The facts of the dispute. Legal basis for the complaint. Breakdown of damages alleged. Any evidence that forms the basis of the complaint must be attached as well as names of witnesses. An address where to receive notice and process.

Once a complaint is filed defendant must receive notice of lawsuit against them. Defendant is served personally with a copy of the complaint along with a summons which requires an answer be filed. (Notificador…court process server).
a. Common practice for party that files lawsuit to do homework of location of person being served. Often you have to pick up server and drive them to the location as they don’t have cars. Under certain circumstances the law allows court appointed public notaries to carry out service of process.
b. Civil Code requires intitial summons and complaint be served at defendants residence by leaving a copy with any person over age of 15. Defendant has 30 days to file an answer. Answer must admit or deny the allegations and list of witnesses which will contradict the allegations. Failure to respond within 30 days results in allegations being accepted as true and a continuation of the civil action. If they answer they may also file a countersuit. They can also file motions challenging jurisdiction, service of process or other procedural matters.

#2- Once the above is completed evidence gathering phase goes on for 40 days. Plaintiff gathers evidence to prove his allegations, defendant gathers evidence to counter allegations. The Code of Civil Procedure allows plaintiff to prove allegations by: testimony of parties, testimony of witnesses, documents and reports, judicial notice, scientific evidence, expert testimony, presumptions. At any time judge may order, at request of either of the parties or his own them in court to answer questions.

Methods for questioning a party. A date is set. Plaintiff prepares no more than 20 written questions. Questions unsealed and the judge asks the defendant the questions. Attorney may reserve the right for follow up questions. There are no court reporters. The judge must ask questions and make a record of it. Testimony is read back and signed by both parties. Testimony from witnesses does not require written questions. Court must assign a Spanish translator if necessary.

In the CR system judges are in charge of gathering evidence and hence the backlog of cases. The court then rules on admissibility of evidence and gives all parties ten days to present final statements and conclusions which are written briefs.

#3-The judge then evaluates evidence and arguments and enters a final judgment. A final judgment rendered by a trial court (juzgado) may be appealed to the Appellate Court (Tribunal Superior Civil).

Abbreviated Procedure: Used for divorce, paternity stuff, rental contract disputes etc.
The Summary Process: Landlord Tenant evictions and rental increases, collectin proceedings based upon executory financial instruments, injunctions, false claim to legal right or obligations due,….Here complaint must be answered in 5 days…everythingis shortened. Rulings that can be appealed are limited.

Problem: Motions must be filed in writing and ruled upon in writing and the ruling served to both parties…this creates extended delays. Hence the defendant will drag out the process by appealing every ruling. Also CR system does not provide for punitive damages and forces the losing party to pay the costs and attorney fees of prevailing party…

There is also Mediation and Arbitration.