Correction to This Article
In a column on December 1, 2005, it was reported that Luis Alvarez Renta had been ordered by a court in Miami to pay the government of the Dominican Republic $176 million for his role in the 2003 collapse of the country's third-largest bank, Baninter. That civil judgment is currently on appeal. There was no intent to imply that Mr. Renta has been convicted of any crimes. Although he is involved in an ongoing criminal proceeding in the Dominican Republic, no criminal charges have been filed in the United States against Mr. Renta. Additionally, in a column on December 1, 2005, it was reported that Juan Luis Bosch and Dionisio Gutierrez had been accused of diverting a portion of Pollo Campero's earnings to personal accounts in Miami Banks. This was based on pending civil litigation in Guatemala and in federal and state court in Florida that was filed by their uncle against several family-owned businesses. Pollo Campero is not a defendant in the federal litigation, and there was no intent to imply that Bosch and Gutierrez had been charged with any crimes. No criminal proceedings have been filed in the United States against Bosch and Gutierrez.

Well-Heeled Crooks Feel the Heat in Miami

Network News

X Profile
View More Activity
By Marcela Sanchez
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, December 1, 2005; 10:30 PM

Those who think they are above the law in Latin America may find Miami a bit less hospitable these days. Federal courts in that city are demonstrating a new willingness to take on well-heeled crooks whose crimes may have occurred outside the United States but who no longer can rely on a permissive Miami culture or influence at home to avoid prosecution.

Last month, a District Court jury there ordered Luis Alvarez Renta, a powerful Dominican financier and nephew of designer Oscar de la Renta, to pay the government of the Dominican Republic more than $176 million for his role in the 2003 collapse of the country's third largest bank, Baninter.

Miami prosecutors too are going after former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in federal court for allegedly embezzling millions of dollars from the Haitian treasury. Also on the docket is a case against rotisserie-chicken magnates Juan Luis Bosch and Dionisio Gutierrez. The powerful cousins, whose Pollo Campero restaurants are about as ubiquitous in Central America as Starbucks is in the United States, are accused of diverting nearly half of the company's earnings to personal accounts in Miami banks.

Lawyers and law professors across the United States and Latin America consider these cases an encouraging new trend against white-collar crime. Until recently, Miami judges tended to dismiss international financial fraud cases on grounds that a U.S. court had neither jurisdiction nor competence to make a ruling, strengthening Miami's reputation as a haven for Latin America's powerful crooks.

But now more and more judges, particularly in Miami, take on foreign cases -- in part because the Patriot Act and other anti-terrorism laws have expanded the jurisdiction of U.S. courts. Michael W. Gordon, law professor at the University of Florida, calls it a "spillover effect" of the U.S. war on terror. He said that strengthened and expanded U.S. anti-money-laundering laws increase access to bank records.

Those laws, traditionally used in drug trafficking and terrorism cases, also apply in the United States against the proceeds from any criminal activity, including bank and tax fraud. The impact of these changes in civil litigation is just now being realized.

Gordon also attributes the increase in prosecutions to having more bilingual judges in Miami who are more comfortable with cases that require an understanding of Latin American legal systems.

Some legal experts argue that turning Miami -- or any other U.S. city for that matter -- into Latin America's court is risky. They warn that the more U.S. courts try cases of violations committed south of the Rio Grande, the less incentive countries in the region may have to develop their own viable legal systems. But for other legal experts in the region who have seen Latin America's weak rule of law rendered impotent against the economically and politically powerful, justice is justice and where the case is tried is of secondary importance.

Robert Amsterdam, a Canadian lawyer who represents Bosch and Gutierrez's uncle, Juan Arturo Gutierrez, says he grew frustrated trying to bring a case against the two men in Guatemala. Trying a case in a U.S. court, he believes, sends a strong message that there is no impunity for anyone. With that, he said, you are "already halfway" in helping strengthen the rule of law in the region.

The recent verdict against Alvarez Renta is expected to help buttress the ongoing criminal case in the Dominican Republic against him and former bank executives. It also "creates new hope" among average Dominicans that there is justice to be found -- even if it is not in Dominican territory, said Dominican lawyer Carlos Salcedo, who represents the Dominican Central Bank in the banking crisis case.

The verdict was the first against anyone connected to the collapse of Baninter that triggered a major economic crisis in the Caribbean nation. It also represented the first time a Latin American state was so determined to prosecute a member of its elite that the case survived a change in power between opposition parties.

Clearly, U.S. courts will not reform Latin American judiciaries, which figure among the least trusted institutions in regional opinion polls. Yet the courts, particularly those in Miami, may have a positive impact on those systems well beyond what the anti-terrorism laws intended.

Marcela Sanchez's e-mail address is desdewash@washpost.com.

CORRECTION TO THIS ARTICLE

In a column on December 1, 2005, it was reported that Luis Alvarez Renta had been ordered by a court in Miami to pay the government of the Dominican Republic $176 million for his role in the 2003 collapse of the country's third-largest bank, Baninter. That civil judgment is currently on appeal. There was no intent to imply that Mr. Renta has been convicted of any crimes. Although he is involved in an ongoing criminal proceeding in the Dominican Republic, no criminal charges have been filed in the United States against Mr. Renta. Additionally, in a column on December 1, 2005, it was reported that Juan Luis Bosch and Dionisio Gutierrez had been accused of diverting a portion of Pollo Campero's earnings to personal accounts in Miami Banks. This was based on pending civil litigation in Guatemala and in federal and state court in Florida that was filed by their uncle against several family-owned businesses. Pollo Campero is not a defendant in the federal litigation, and there was no intent to imply that Bosch and Gutierrez had been charged with any crimes. No criminal proceedings have been filed in the United States against Bosch and Gutierrez.


© 2005 The Washington Post Company

Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity