The Public Ministry is investigating David Mark Lesman, a US citizen and owner of the illegally built ranch at Playa Garza, in Nosara. This was confirmed by the institution’s press department to The Voice of Guanacaste.
The Environmental Prosecutor’s Office of Santa Cruz is in charge of the investigation (file-19-000017-1791-PE), and is collecting and analyzing the evidence as part of the preparatory stage of the case.
According to the Article 229 of the Penal Code, the crime of usurpation of property in the public domain carries a sentence of three months to four years in prison. If convicted, the perpetrator must pay the expenses incurred by the municipality when demolishing the work.
Lesman is living abroad at the moment and stated to this newspaper that he did not know about the investigation against him.
The Maritime Zone Law (ZMT) specifies that no one can build on the fifty meters of public property on the coast.
On February 2019, The Voice of Guanacaste revealed municipal files showing that Lesman had built a large part of the ranch precisely on that public beach property. The investigation also indicated that the construction work continued, regardless of three closing orders.
Even though there are several properties with constructions that surpass those limits in Garza, many of them existed before the law was published over forty years ago. According to Lesman himself, he bought the property in the late 80’s.
Nicoya does not have a regulating plan for Garza yet, which means that any construction there is illegal. In fact, none of the neighbors of the ranch has concessions or permits to expand their residential properties.
Over a year has passed and the Nicoya municipality has not solved this issue. The construction control department of the municipality of Nicoya recommended the City to close and demolish the property, but to the date of this publication, the building is still there.
The chief department, Josué Ruiz, said they are making regular visits to ensure that the construction work does not continue while they wait for an answer from the City, and now, the Prosecutor’s office.
“We paused the follow-up of this case [for three months] due to the change of administration, but we have resumed the inspections,” the coordinator confirmed.
Over a year of investigation
In July 2019, The Voice of Guanacaste contacted Lesman, a U.S. citizen, via Facebook. At that moment, he assured that he had paid over half a million dollars to municipal authorities for the property, even though he did not receive any response about the payments. He also said that “the authorities” knew about the construction of the ranch.
“I was told [by the municipality] to build it. They said that the city and the municipality would love to have a Rancho in the style of the Costa Rican people that everybody could use,” Lesman said.
The Voice of Guanacaste asked him for documents that proved the payments to the municipality employees, but at the deadline of this publication, Lesman had not sent any documentation.
On November 4, 2019, the former mayor of Nicoya, Marco Jiménez, said during a session of the municipal council that he was unaware of any type of payments or permits granted to this person.
In that session, the mayor assured that he had assigned two staff members to investigate the irregularities in the case and present a report. Employees have yet to present anything to the council, as confirmed by the Council Legal Advisor, Gerardo Carvajal. This newspaper tried to contact them to inquire about progress of the internal investigation, but one staff member did not respond and the other is on maternity leave.
In November, the councilor agreed to discuss the ranch issue once the municipality finalized the report.
On May 25, the entity debated the evacuation and demolition of several improvised constructions within the Terrestrial Maritime Zone, but both the president of the council, Martín Reyes, and the head of the construction control department, Josué Ruiz, assure that the Garza ranch is not included in these properties.
Irregularities in the department of the Terrestrial Maritime Zone
The former manager of the Terrestrial Maritime Zone in the municipality, Juan Carlos Oviedo, had requested the Asada de Garza and the Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE in Spanish) installed services on the ranch plot. The same department that he directed was in fact the one that should have stopped that construction.
In a letter sent to the Department of Construction Control, Oviedo assured that Lesman “has been occupying the plot for 20 years.” Lesman cannot be an occupant of the property because he bought it almost a decade after the law.
On April 2019, the legal department of the same municipality issued a legal opinion describing the events as irregular, but that was disclosed two months later because an official from the legal department had been away on vacation. The lawyer, Humberto León, analyzed Lesman’s file at the request of Deputy Mayor Adriana Rodríguez, who was seeking legal support to demolish the illegal construction.
Oviedo, who is already retired, also denied to The Voice of Guanacaste the accusations in July of last year.
“What was done, was done right. Everything is fine and there is no problem,” he told the media at the time.
Currently, the former manager is not under any type of investigation. If Lesman is found guilty, the prosecution could open his own file to analyze his participation in the possible crime.