|Pinguino was once Rick and Carolís dream business. Now, because of the scam, they are forced to close down.|
|Accused conman, Abner Gomez. |
It may sound like the classic story of bad things happening to good people, but there is more to the story than just that. It is a story of one falling into deception by someone who gained your trust, and at a high cost. The San Pedro Sun has been following this story for the past weeks, and in an effort not to prejudice the case, we cooperated with the authorities and withheld this information until a proper investigation could be made by the different law enforcement agencies involved.
Approximately two weeks ago, 60 year old US ex-pat Rick Davidson, business owner of Pinguino Winery shared with The Sun his story of extortion and missing wine. An emotional Davidson explained that he and his wife, Carol Busby, were introduced to one Abner Gomez who allegedly offered to be a sales agent for Pinguino Belize. According to Davidson, Gomez went further to explain that he was willing to serve as a broker to facilitate the importation of wine into Belize at a more reasonable cost. Looking to save some money, Davidson entrusted his business to Gomez to assist in the broker work. Davidson stated that on or around December 15th, 2008 he received information from the Belize Port Authority that his shipment of wine had arrived. That is when Davidson reportedly informed Gomez that his wines were at the Port and to commence the clearance work. But it was not until December 22nd, 2008, that Gomez confirmed that indeed the wines had arrived. According to Davidson, Gomez said that with his good connections at the port and customs, he would be able to get the wines for him but he needed $5,800. Davidson was instructed to deposit the money into an account in the name of Beverly Wallace at Belize Bank, which he did on the same day. Gomez confirmed that he had received the money. At that point the wine should have been cleared, then shipped to San Pedro and stocked on their shelves by the December 23rd. That transaction never took place and instead, the story of the wine took a U-turn and headed into a nightmare for the owners of Pinguino.
Davidson explained that once his wine did not arrive on the island by December 24th, he contacted Gomez who allegedly explained that there was a little problem at the Port with the clearance. Very worried over what might happen with his Christmas Day orders, Davidson insisted on having his wine delivered at its earliest, but after December 26th when the wine was not on the island, Davidson and Busby finally made contact with Gomez, who promised that the wine would be in by December 29th. It was not until the December 31st that Davison caught up with a frustrated Gomez. Apparently Gomez told Davidson that the situation has been a royal pain and, ďI donít want to deal with it anymore; here is the phone number to call; I am out of the loop.Ē Gomez apparently told Davidson that the matter is now in care of one Edwardo Correa and one George Escalante, Customer Broker from Corozal Town.
When Davidson contacted Escalante that day, he allegedly stated that he (Escalante) needed $1,000 and the wine would be on the island by the evening. That never happened, and on January 2nd, Davidson and Busby, along with Gomez decided to travel to Corozal where they met with Correa and Escalante. In Corozal, the men then informed him that they needed another $3,200 to take the wine from the Port to San Pedro Town. According to Davidson, he made out two cheques, one for $1,000 in the name of Edwardo Correa; and the other, in the amount of $2,200, was made out to Escalante. It was not until January 7th, that Davidson received a call from both men who informed him that they needed an additional $2,500. When Davidson inquired why, he said the men told him that it was to bribe the custom official and take the wine from the Free Zone into Belize. At this point Davidson started to become worried because he never directed that his wine be taken into the Free Zone. Davidson refused to give the men the money and told them to figure out what they would do with the wine.
Finally, on January 26th, frustrated and fearing that he had been ripped off, Davidson went to the San Pedro Police Station where he made a formal report. Subsequently, the Customs Department launched an investigation and discovered that George Escalante took out the wine under bond to the Corozal Free Zone under a shell company named Vida Belize Limited, registered under the name of Isaac and Fred Lumor. Evidence from the Customs Department reveals that Davidsonís signature was forged and his product was placed in the name of George Escalante and Herman Riverol.
According to Sergeant Leslie Wade from the San Pedro Police Department, the matter is still under investigation but he confirmed that the wines are now in the hands of the Customs Department in Corozal after being located within the Corozal Free Zone. Sergeant Wade explained that George Escalante had been summoned to appear in Court in Belize City on Wednesday, February 4th. Sergeant Wade also stated that the police continue to investigate the incident.
Suffering from the financial set back of close to $60,000 in lost sales and inventory, Rick and Carol are now forced to close Pinguino Wine and are in the process of liquidating their business.
In another related story, on Saturday, January 31st Francis and Vernon Wilson of Holy Cross Anglican School in the San Mateo Area stated to the public that Abner Gomez had been a volunteer at the school since October and was very skilled in technical areas, assisting staff and students in their Computer Center. They now fear that Gomez may have used his association with the school to meet volunteers and friends of the school for possible illegal/unethical reasons. In addition, Gomez also made unauthorized charges of almost $600US to Mr. Wilsonís account at Maya Island Air and the matter is now in the hands of the police.