Some in La Fortuna consider triple murder to be a message

Some La Fortuna residents say that the murder of three persons early Saturday was designed to send a message. They don’t know what the message is, but the killers clearly have connections for others in the community, the residents say.

There is a lot of speculation in the community dominated by Arenal volcano because a single murder is infrequent there. So a triple killing of a local hotel operator and his two sons is a shocker.

The man, Geovany Soto, 52, engaged in making high-interest loans, but an expat who was involved with him said he was a decent businessman and not a shark.

Agents believe that Soto and his sons went from their La Fortuna home and were brought to the family hotel, the Hotel Mountain Paradise outside of town. They may have been seeking money or something else to satisfy their abductors. Fuerza Pública officers found the 20-year-old son, Emanuel. He had been riddled with bullets and left in a vehicle near the Río Fortuna waterfalls, a tourist spot. Neighbors reported hearing gunshots. That was about 1 a.m. Saturday.

Not until about 6:30 a.m. did police receive a report of two bodies found in a lot. They were the father and the son, Mauricio, 29. Their throats were cut.

The Judicial Investigating Organization has placed the man’s wife and younger child in protective custody. She will be a key witness, but it is likely that those who abducted the trio were small-time gang members from the San José area who had been hired for the job.

Soto used to manage the well-known Hotel Montaña del Fuego and perhaps one other hotel before buying the Hotel Mountain Paradise.

The La Fortuna residents say that because the trio were treated so badly and left in the open to be found, the motive for the crime was to send a message. Investigators have ruled out kidnapping and robbery.

The investigation may determine that the Sotos borrowed money themselves from the wrong people. Tourism has been slow for several years, and many hotel owners have been in a financial bind.

Those in business in Costa Rica are continually approached with offers ranging from storing drugs to laundering money. Costa Rica ranks high as a money laundering and drug transit location. But crooks need someone to insert the money into the local economy so the funds appear to be legally earned. Retail stores, restaurants, casinos and hotels are the types of businesses with the cash flow to disguise illegal money. The merchant simply reports the dirty money as sales and makes a bank deposit. They also pay the appropriate taxes. The money can be returned to the drug lords in a number of ways.

In some cases, investments are made in Costa Rica real estate. Or fake overseas purchases are arranged. Before Sept. 11, 2001, there was a steady business in swapping dollars for Colombian pesos. The business was legal, and couriers from Bogota declared the money at the airport. Increased international scrutiny ended that type of operation.

But now some restaurants and retail stores with hardly any customers are reporting impressive monthly incomes.

Typically it is those in the trucking business who end up storing and transporting drugs. A kilo of cocaine may arrive by launch in the Caribbean and find temporary storage there. But before it leaves Costa Rica for the north, it may have been housed in three or four locations, sometimes to keep investigators from becoming suspicious. Local business people have been detained for their roles in drug traffic. Typically the merchant makes regular shipments of product to the United States, Canada or Europe. The cocaine is hidden within the legal product. Processed food, pineapples and even rugs have been found to be a cover for cocaine. Anti-drug police found cocaine in shipping containers in Limón already this year.

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