Appeals judge affirms expat’s acquittal in land dispute

An expat who has been facing a forgery allegation has been cleared by an appeals judge.

For the expat, Sheldon Hazeltine, the decision was the third in a series of three hearing and three appeals. Two previous appeals judges remanded the case back for a new hearing.

In a written decision, Verónica Elizondo Murillo, the judge in Puntarenas, said she could find little evidence against Hazeltine or his lawyer, Horacio Mejias Portuguez. Both had been accused.

The allegations were brought by well-known businessman Armando González Fonseca and Martha Sandoval Fernández, a woman who once lived on land that is the subject of a civil dispute.

The forgery allegation was criminal. Gozález and his lawyer, Otto Giovanny Ceciliano Mora, said that the men forged a document that allowed them to represent a company in the civil case.

The decision in the third hearing was handed down Oct. 9. That decision was the third to absolve the two men of the criminal allegation. But the decisions in two previous hearings were overturned on appeal.
Hazeltine has become a poster boy of sorts for expats involved in property disputes. He has been fighting over ownership of land near Los Sueños for nearly two decades.

The appeals judge upheld a money decision against Ms. Sandoval for 15.2 million colons or about $30,600. The judge overturned a money award against González and left the amount for future litigation.

Hazeltine was the man who posted a YouTube video critical of property fraud in Costa Rica. The nine-page decision mostly addressed legal issues that were raised in the appeal.

González had challenged a document that carried the seal of the Costa Rican consul in The Bahamas that related to a Panamá company owned by Hazeltine and his partners in the civil case. That the document was legitimate was established in each of the three trials.

Had the document been voided as being fraudulent, González would have had a strong advantage in the civil case. Hazeltine had contended for a long time that the criminal case was strategic and linked to the civil trial. The judge had the option to move the case forward for a full trial.

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