Mrs. Bender files criminal case over jewelry held by customs official

Ann Patton Bender has filed a criminal charge against a top executive in the Costa Rican customs department alleging appropriation and illegal retention of some $7 million in jewels that has been confiscated by investigators, according to a family spokesman.

Mrs. Bender is the widow of Wall Street millionaire John Bender who died at the couple’s 5,000-acre private Refugio de Vida Silvestre Boracayán in La Florida de Barú de Pérez Zeledón Jan. 10, 2010.

Mrs. Bender was the women who was tried three times on allegations of murder involving her husband’s death. She was acquitted twice and convicted once. Prosecutors are appealing the last acquittal with the goal of yet a fourth trial.

She said her husband took his own life while she tried to stop him. Prosecutors disagreed although there was really no way to prove otherwise.

Early in the case, investigators cleaned out the huge mansion at the reserve and discovered that Mrs. Bender had accumulated about $7 million in precious and semi-precious stones. Many were loose and not mounted as jewelry.

Peter DeLisi, a childhood friend of John and also a Wall Street expert, is the family spokesman. As A.M. Costa Rica reported March 21 he said 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.

According to the spokesman, 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.

Mrs. Bender’s representatives here reached an agreement with the then-manager of the central office of the Dirección General de Aduanas, the customs agency. But that individual left, and

the job was filled Jan. 15 by a woman with the coincidental name of Guiselle Joya Ramírez.

Ms. Joya has not responded to inquiries from A.M. Costa Rica, and others in the customs agency decline to discuss the case and claim it still is an open investigation. A.M. Costa Rica has documents that show a judge has made a final determination in favor of Ms. Bender.

DeLisi provided a reporter with a copy of the official criminal complaint report filed with the judiciary. He also said that Ms Joya was served with the complaint Friday.

DeLisi for some time has raised questions as to why Ms. Joya has held discussions with a lawyer, Juan de Dios Álvarez Aguilar. The lawyer was a trustee for the family holdings in Costa Rica and now stands accused of helping himself to millions in Bender assets.

DeLisi said that Ms. Joya has allowed Alvarez to insert himself into the proceedings as a third party although he has no legal standing. In addition, he said earlier that Mrs. Bender’s own lawyer was excluded from a meeting between Ms. Joya and Alvarez.

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 suffered from depression, and Bender had threatened suicide.

Here are some of the jewelry confiscated by investigators.

Here are some of the jewelry confiscated by investigators.

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