Convictions put spotlight on retail store money laundering here

Convictions announced Tuesday put a spotlight on the business practice of laundering money for drug gangs.

The convictions Tuesday morning were the result of a chance encounter by police who responded to a noise complaint at a San José hotel.

That was Dec. 18, 2013, when Fuerza Pública officers noticed a plastic bag amid the hotel room party. The bag contained More than $586,000. The two room occupants, a Honduran and a Guatemalan, faced money laundering charges that resulted in convictions Tuesday in the I Circuito Judicial Tribunal Penal de San José. They were identified by the Poder Judicial as  Francisco Cabral and Alfredo Arriola. They received 12 years in prison each.

A month after their arrest, a woman contacted investigators in an effort to reclaim the money. The Poder Judicial said the

woman claimed that she was swindled by the two men in a deal to buy property. Investigators did not accept her story.

Agents alleged that she was using her clothing store to launder money. The Poder Judicial identified her as Jéssica Morales and said she was sentenced to 14 years. Two other women are fugitives.

The full extent of money laundering activities by business operators in Costa Rica is not known. However, there are plenty of storefronts that seem to have no customers where the owners report significant income each month and pay the appropriate sales tax and income tax.

Some have admitted to reporters that they have been approached by drug gangs and offered up to 40 percent of the amount laundered.

In the Tuesday case, the money becomes the property of the  Instituto Costarricense sobre Drogas.tank051315

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