Expats need a spreadsheet to tell one mafia from the other. Costa Rica is an important country for a number of criminal organizations that generally are lumped under the term mafia.
Some are the real deal. The Italian Mafia has been involved with Costa Rica mainly for drug smuggling and money laundering. A leader of the Comorra lived here unmolested for at least eight months once.
Then there is the other real Mafia out of New York and New Jersey. The Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office just announced the arrest of six individuals involved in a Costa Rican-based sportsbook operation here.
There have been a series of arrests of those linked the the so-called Five Families who have used Costa Rica as an internet hub. John Gotti’s personal bookmaker, Dominick Curra, was a convicted fugitive when he arrived here in 2001. He was detained the next year in la Sabana where he was believed to have maintained some kind of betting operation. Gotti, the Teflon Don, was the former boss of the Gambino crime family.
There have been similar arrests in New York that linked bookmakers there to wire room operations here in 2002, 2009 and 2011, according to news files.
Then there are the Mexican mafias, the drug-smuggling gangs from that country who have thoroughly infiltrated Costa Rica. Their main job is the extensive drug smuggling that uses Costa Rica as an important way station.
The Mexican mafias are not to be confused with the Colombian mafias, mainly rebel organizations there that control drug cultivation and production.
Of course, all the drug organizations, by necessity, have morphed into money laundering and human trafficking, also involving Costa Rica. The Italian and U.S. mafias are less involved in those activities because much of their income is local.
Then there is the Taiwanese mafia, which is believed to control illegal shark-finning in Costa Rica.
The Russian mafia seems to prefer gambling and human trafficking. The former KGB operatives began building their worldwide network after the fall of the Soviet Union. The Russians seem to have infiltrated and strong-armed their way into some Costa Rican sex tourism and casino enterprises.
And rounding out the list are the Chinese mafia, probably at least 16 established gangs in the country who have inserted their roots into Costa Rica to the extent that the government here has lost control of some sections of the capital. The main operations of these organizations involve human trafficking, local gambling and smuggling.
Most sources agree that Costa Rica is a prime location for criminals because there is no army and the judicial process is dysfunctional. Prosecutors and investigators here generally are distracted by the continual war on drugs, which takes up a lot of resources. The Dirección Nacional de Inteligencia y Seguridad has not seemed to have had any impact.
Costa Rican institutions also seem to be vulnerable to exploitation. Foreign prostitutes enter the country under the protection of the Russian and various other organized crime groups. They have had genuine visas as Spanish language students.
There seems to be infiltration of the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería. A previous A.M. Costa Rica article reported the account of a Dominican prostitute who said she paid off the second half of what she owed for her passage at a location in the immigration complex in La Uruca.
There also have been arrests of officials in the nation’s customs organization who have been involved in irregularities on imports.
Fuerza Pública officers have been caught riding protection for drug shipments. There also are indications that crooks have knowledge of much of the activities of the various police forces.
The central government seems to have little control over the sportsbooks operating here. Most of betting money goes to other national jurisdictions. And immigration Trabajo ministry officials are lax on enforcing labor rules.
Costa Rica got a warning as long ago as 1997 from the United Nations about the presence here of the Italian Mafia or Camorra. At that time police officials here said they had become aware of the Mafia presence in 1995, news files show. Even then it appeared that the Italians were infiltrating legitimate tourism businesses.
Even then some Russians were found to be getting appointments are honorary Costa Rican consuls in Europe. The diplomatic positions could have been used to further smuggling activties.
The Italian Antonio Iovine was the man identified as the leader of the Italian Camorra. He entered the country five times up until 2014, according to El Diario Extra.
During one visit, the man stayed eight months, the newspaper said, citing immigration sources. Iovine entered once through Juan Santamaría airport even though he was on the Italian most-wanted list, said La Extra. His speciality was gambling, and his organization had control of much of the gambling in Europe.
Iovine may have been cooperating with Italian authorities during some of the time he was here.
Costa Rica’s attraction for New York area bookmakers is the security of their internet files. The traditional wire room full of telephones and bustling activity is a thing of the past. Now the gamblers place their bets through Costa Rican sportsbooks. The bet money may be paid offshore or in the New York metro area. Winnings are paid in the same way. The bookmakers can check the status of the accounts at any time via computer or even a smartphone.
The six men held in the latest crackdown were arraigned Thursday in Brooklyn.The District Attorney’s Office said that, according to the indictment, between Sept. 1, and March 15, the defendants used the Web site www.stakestake.com to accept bets on professional and collegiate sporting events, including football, basketball, baseball, hockey, soccer and horse racing. Access to the Web site was obtained by a user name and password that were unique to each user and wagers were placed directly on the Web site or by calling toll free numbers associated with it, the announcement said. During the time period charged in the indictment, the gambling operation accepted $13.2 million in wagers.
Eugene Castelle, 56, of Staten Island was identified as the leader of the group. He was identified as a member of the Lucchese crime family. The Genovese crime family also has been said to have operations linked to here.
The stakestake.com Web site domain is in the hands of a British internet privacy firm. Operators of the Web site received monthly fees based on the number of gamblers associated with the New York betting operation, the district attorney’s office said.