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Wednesday, August 27 2014 @ 01:10 PM EDT

"I've Been Ripped Off! Can you help me?" File Your Complaint First

Crime & Punishment By DON WINNER for - I get email all the time from people claiming to have been the victim of a crime or fraud, normally something having to do with a real estate transaction or an investment that went bad in Panama. The perpetrators are usually a combination of real estate sellers or developers with a lawyer or two tossed in for good measure. They want to tell me all of the details (their side of the story only), describe the evil doers, tell me all about it, then they expect me to go riding off on a white horse to slay their dragons for them.

That's Now How It Works, Folks: First of all, if you're the victim of a crime here in Panama, the very first thing you need to do is file an official and formal complaint with the Department of Judicial Investigation (DIJ.) When you go to the DIJ bring all of your documents, copies of contracts, email, proof and evidence, and lay it all out for them. If you don't speak Spanish then you might have to make an appointment so they can have a translator available, but they can do that and most importantly they will. Make sure to emphatically state your case, as you see it. "This man (state his name) stole $60,000 dollars from me, and I want it back." Don't assume they will be able to figure anything out for themselves. State it in black and white. Make your complaint loud and clear, with no ambiguities, as you see it.

You Can Add More Later: Filing an official complaint with the DIJ starts the investigatory process. It's important to note that sometimes business disputes over disagreements in how a contract should be executed are civil matters, and not criminal. However it there's an element of fraud, theft, falsification of documents, or a host of other things, then the issue jumps from civil to criminal. After the process is started and the DIJ opens an investigation, you can always go down there later to amplify or expand your statement, and to add new proof or evidence. The DIJ should investigate the situation for a month or two, and if they find enough to indicate that a crime has indeed taken place, they will forward the case to the prosecutors of the Public Ministry, and then they will open their own investigation.

The Prosecutors Can Do More: In Panama the prosecutors of the Public Ministry have relatively far ranging investigatory powers. They can issue citations and force people to come in to their offices to make official sworn statements, including witnesses who have knowledge of the events. They can call in the accused and interrogate them as well - but they handle anyone who might potentially be charged with a crime differently from just witnesses because they have different rights, guarantees, and protections. Prosecutors can also issue search warrants and do things like seize evidence to help them build their case. You, as the person making the complaint, can also go in and add more information as the investigation continues.

Finally, Off To Court: After the prosecutor has investigated the case and developed the evidence, if they think they can prove that a crime has been committed and they know who did it, then they will forward the case to the judges of the courts and ask for there to be a trial. The whole process, from you making your initial complaint to getting it before a judge, could take a couple of years.

Scan The Complaint And Send It To Me: If you have been a victim of a crime, you have to take the first step and file the criminal complaint in the DIJ. If you have not done that, then I really can't talk about it. Once you've filed the complaint, then I can talk about the complaint and it's contents, because that's potentially newsworthy. Later I can also talk about the case at it wanders through the justice system. So, if you've been ripped off in Panama in a real estate or investment scam, file your official complaint, and then we can talk. The primary reason for talking to me (the press) would be to let others know what happened to you, so maybe the same thing won't happen to someone else - to sort of issue a public warning about the individuals involved. But if you have not even taken the time to file an official complaint then please don't waste your time or mine. And also you should be aware that I'm going to talk to all sides in the dispute and get their version of the events as well, so don't try to bullshit me if it was you who actually screwed up, because I'll figure it out eventually. Note - the one exception would be cases involving missing persons or a potential murder. If you think a loved one is missing and has been killed in Panama, call me immediately, no matter what. Like, yesterday.

"Don't Call Don Winner" - Lately I've been getting that a lot. One of the FBI agents at the US Embassy has repeatedly advised people not to contact me, because basically I'm a thorn in their side. They don't want to have to deal with the fact that I know what's going on in any particular case. Well, they didn't catch Javier Martin in four days, the effective use of the local news media did. I got the word out on the TVN channel 2 news broadcast, he was spotted in Santa Fe in the Darien and immediately arrested. The FBI also could not catch William Dathan Holbert and Laura Michelle Reese - either in the United States, Costa Rica (where they also killed American citizens), or in Panama, or in Nicaragua. They were caught only after I broke the story to the press, and got their names and faces were on every television screen in Panama and Costa Rica and they were forced to run. The FBI didn't catch Daniel Moreno either - I provided the information directly to the DIJ that got him arrested in one day. And if someone in Bocas del Toro had called me immediately about the "fishy" disappearance of Yvonne Baldelli on the weekend of 26 November 2011, then I suspect that case might have evolved differently as well. The funny thing is after the FBI tells people not to call me (by name), in the end they usually do anyway, and then they tell me about it, and then I write this (good call, guys). I got a similar call again just yesterday. Anyway, point made. If it's a missing person case or a suspected homicide, call me immediately. If it's a theft or fraud case, then file your complaint, scan it, and then call me once that's been done.

Copyright 2012 by Don Winner for Go ahead and use whatever you like as long as you credit the source. Salud.

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