Tom McMurrain is still in Panama awaiting extradition to the US. He spent the first night of his detention in the Fiscalia de Drogas, and was transferred thursday to PTJ headquarters in Ancón. His arrest occurred when he had a meeting with a DEA agent who is stationed at the US embassy. The meeting was supposedly about suspicions about San Cristobal being involved in money laundering. After the agent left, PTJ agents who had been sitting on the next table at the restaurant Cafe Cafe on the Balboa Avenue raised from their chairs and arrested McMurrain, it was learned yesterday. Exactly the same trap had been set for Brent Wagman, an associate of Marc Harris, years ago at the Miramar Hotel.
A PTJ spokesperson confirmed that the arrest was made on request of the FBI, and that there are no cases in Panama against McMurrain as far as is now known. However, McMurrain/San Cristobal faces at least one civil suit in Panama for non-payment of fees for services being provided. It was also learned that Geo Forestal earlier this year discontinued its relation with San Cristobal because McMurrain failed to pay them for their maintenance work on the plantations.
Go directly to jail
Tomas Cabal, San Cristobal's spin-doctor who earlier worked for Harris and who has been uncharacteristically quiet about the affair so far, was present at McMurrain's arrest and was shown smiling in the TVN footage. "Hire Cabal, go to jail" seems to hold true more than ever. An above-average number of his clients and their associates faced criminal charges and arrest after they contracted the spin-doctor. Similarly, his efforts for clients like Harris, PECC, Banaico, Yakima and San Cristobal seem to have produced negative results exclusively.
But McMurrain, who repeatedly claimed that he was going to put me in jail, believed differently until the last moment, even though he appeared to have some predicament about his own future:
"The asshole or more assholes will haul our butts into court and require rectal exams and all of our personal records and even when it is all said and done we still have to live with the fact that one asshole may lose it and stalk our asses down,"
"if I was a fugitive Okke living in the neighborhood that I do and my wife being an art teacher for three years at a prominent school…don’t you think I would have been arrested?"
He wrote the last one just three months ago.
Yesterday, the US embassy distributed the indictment (download) against Tom McMurrain.
In short, it describes how McMurrain, while still in Atlanta, defrauded over 60 victims out of $9 million dollars using a company "Emergency One", which was in the payday loan business. He issued promissory notes offering interest rates of up to 30% to raise the money needed for this venture.
At a certain point, McMurrain no longer paid interest on these promissory notes. He wrote a letter to investors, claiming he had built a "winning company," and stating that he had raised a family and "beat cancer" over the last six months (the cancer spin resurfaced when he lured investors for his noni scam by claiming noni had helped him to overcome that disease). He warned those investors not to go to the SEC as they might lose all (which eventually happened anyway), and painted yet another imaginary scenario to attract an "angel investor," who would just have to cough up something to the tune of $6 million to save the "winning company." In the proposal for this angel investor, it was represented that Emergency One owned substantial stock and partnerships in various companies of Tom Lennon, and his wife, like BeyondZ and E-subcontractor (Tom Lennon was a principal of San Cristobal as well until he was kicked out of the noni scheme having earned the nicknames "Hot Pants" and "Jaques Cousteau" in Panama's prostitution scene). Lennon, asked about this, replied that "as far as E-one is concerned, I had absolutely no involvement with that company and am not privy to Tom McMurrain's relationship with his investors other than the fact that I know money was lost." Yet, in the indictment several bank transfers are mentioned in which money was wired from McMurrain's company to E-subcontractor (Tom Lennon) and BeyondZ (Karen Lennon, his wife, a TV producer).
Even though all these facts, and more, were published already about one and a half year ago in The Panama News, McMurrain continued to enjoy support in Panama.
Who supported and protected McMurrain?
For example, Panama's ex-vice president Arturo Vallarino lend himself for a promotion of McMurrain's activities last year september when he visited the noni project in Bocas del Toro together with IPAT director Mauricio Lopez.
"The Vice President congratulated Mr. McMurrain on doing a very good job of establishing plantations containing 30,000 tropical hardwood trees and over 100,000 medicinal plants that will provide benefits to investors and the employees of San Cristobal, without harming the environment," states the SCLD press release. The plantations had not even been cleared, planted, or titled at that time. Continues the press release: "Bocas Mayor Eladio Robinson (...) pledged his ongoing support for SCLD and the Bocas Business Association (...)." Robinson, who is no longer the mayor of Bocas, is facing serious legal problems these days related to the illegal sales of land owned by the state.
A special mention should go to the Panamanian public ministry headed by Attorney General José Antonio Sossa, which did nothing to protect the journalists covering the SCLD story even when journalism organizations asked for that; did nothing to investigate Tom McMurrain and his operations, but on the contrary made an effort of pursuing criminal libel charges brought against the author and Eric Jackson of The Panama News.
Effectively, one can safely state that McMurrain has been protected and even promoted by the Panamanian authorities.
Of a lesser category but worth mentioning is Roger Gallo, owner of Escape Artist, International Living staff writer, and unlicensed real estate broker, who has published numerous stories hyping McMurrain's efforts, calling them "the best retirement investment I've seen in 20 years!" Gallo has brought the majority of the sales of San Cristobal, and at one time netted as much as $25,000 commission per sale.
Gallo finds himself in the company of a David Marchant, a self-proclaimed financial investigator who has consistently supported McMurrain in his efforts to stop the negative publicity about him. At one point, Marchant even made the bizarre claim that undersigned owned a competing teak plantation.
And of course we wouldn't be complete without spin-doctor Tomas Cabal who launched smear campaigns and organized political support for McMurrain and his company.
Noteworthy is also BlueForest, a company that designs and builds tree houses which, even when presented with all the information about Tom McMurrain and his shady past and present, insisted on starting a joint venture with San Cristobal just a couple of months ago.
Exposing Fraud and Corruption in Panama
There are many seminars and conferences being held in Panama these days about the fight against fraud and corruption. At all these occasions, it is stipulated how journalists are on the forefront of uncovering corruption and fraud and how important it is for us to be able to do our job and work together with civic organizations and our colleagues. Yet, the McMurrain/San Cristobal saga is a perfect example of how reality is extremely different.
No journalism organization in Panama has so much as lifted a finger when the journalists covering this story (and some of their sources) received death threats and were presented with criminal libel charges. Similarly, no civic organization has taken an active role either;
With the exception of El Siglo which did a seven day series, the Spanish language press in Panama - most notably the so-called "serious" papers like La Prensa and El Panama America - have refused to look into the story even though it apparently involved high government officials and a known high profile fraud artist operating out of Panama;
Worse, even, some journalists and newspapers have prostituted themselves to McMurrain and his henchmen and received payments through Tomas Cabal in order to publish smear articles about undersigned and his family. La Critica's "journalist" Florencio Galvez deserves to be mentioned specifically in this regard.
In such a hostile environment, it is extremely difficult and even dangerous for an independent journalist to practice investigative journalism, and there are little signs that this unfortunate situation will change for the better anytime soon.