Ann Bender may be back in the United States, but her legal problems are hardly resolved.
The most pressing issue now is some $7 million in precious and semi-precious stones that she and her husband, John, collected as investments while they were living on the Pacific coast. From the family’s point of view, the stones are inexplicably held up in the country’s customs agency. Prosecutors seized the stones from the Benders’ five-story 8,000-square-foot glass-walled showplace home in their 5,000-acre private Refugio de Vida Silvestre Boracayán, La Florida de Barú de Pérez Zeledón. Investigators and prosecutors were responding to the death of John Bender.
Also a concern now is a prosecutor’s appeal of a third murder trial in which Mrs. Bender was acquitted. Prosecutors want a fourth trial, which is allowed under Costa Rica law.
Bender died Jan, 8, 2010, in a room where the only other person present was his wife. She testified she tried to stop his suicide. Prosecutors continue to claim she did it but did not define a motive.
Peter DeLisi, a childhood friend of John and also a Wall Street expert, is the family spokesman. He said Sunday that Mrs. Patton and he thought that the case of the precious and semi-precious stones had been resolved with a ruling by a judge that acquitted her of money laundering and smuggling allegations.
There is a paper trail that shows the stones were to be returned, and DeLisi said that the woman agreed to pay a $1.5 million tax even though she was not legally required to do so.
The couple accumulated the stones in 2008 and 2009 when prices were low due to the world economic downturn. He said that they were brought into the country with the full knowledge of customs inspectors after some 10 to 15 trips the Benders made to the United States.
Bender was a multi-millionaire who earned his money on Wall Street.
Mrs. Bender and her lawyers reached an agreement on the stones with Enilda Ramírez González, the manager of the central office of
the Dirección General de Aduanas, the customs agency. But Ms. Ramírez left her job Jan. 15, and Guiselle Joya Ramírez took over the responsibilities.
DeLisi said that he and Mrs. Bender’s lawyers have been unable to obtain a good explanation from Ms. Joya. Neither has A.M. Costa Rica. She did not respond to repeated calls Friday. The Ministerio de Hacienda of which Aduanas is a part has declined to
comment because a spokesperson said the case is still open.
DeLisi expressed concern that former employees of the Benders may have been meeting with Aduanas officials.
Much of the Benders’ holdings in Costa Rica, including the private reserve, were in a trust.
But DeLisi said that the precious and semiprecious stones were personal possessions of the Benders. They remain in the custody of the Banco de Costa Rica.
He did say that all the furnishing of La Florida de Barú have been signed over to Mrs. Bender. They are in storage. Investigators, as is the local custom, cleaned out the family home during the investigation of Bender’s death. Mrs. Bender was a fan of Tiffany-style lamps with stained glass shades, but about half of the estimated 400 lamps were heavily damaged by the moving process, said DeLisi. He suggested there might be legal action over the damage.
The legal problems do not end there. A trustee of the family trust, a lawyer, Juan de Dios Álvarez Aguilar, has been removed from the post and faces a trial later in the year, DeLisi confirmed Sunday. Mrs. Bender accuses him of appropriating assets.
Mrs. Bender, after three trials, was able to leave Costa Rica last September. The woman spent time in preventative detention in Buen Pastor prison and also was hospitalized. Both she and her husband suffer from depression, and Bender had threatened suicide. DeLisi said she spent four months recovering her health in the States.
The case has been the subject of U.S. television coverage and a number of articles on the Internet.