Creighton's kidnapping made headlines in 2018 and 2019. - 5Dimes and Spain National Police photo -
Published Thursday, October 1, 2020
Online gaming brand owned by
murdered U.S. citizen reaches a
settlement with U.S. Prosecutors
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
5Dimes, an online gaming brand located in Costa Rica, announced on Wednesday it had entered into a settlement agreement with the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (EDPA).
According to the company, the agreement should make them eligible to apply to enter the legal, regulated U.S. gaming industry under a new corporate structure, free and clear of any restrictions on the use or transfer of its assets and in full compliance with U.S. law.
A new corporate entity, 5D Americas LLC, has already been incorporated in the State of Delaware, the online gaming firm said in its statement.
5Dimes formerly operated for many years under the full and exclusive control of its founder, William Sean "Tony" Creighton. Prior to his tragic kidnapping and murder in 2018, both 5Dimes and Creighton were under federal investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), specifically the EDPA, the firm said.
According to 5Dimes, after Creighton's death his widow, Ms. Varela, assumed responsibility for the company assets, although she did not exercise day-to-day authority over the operations.
In the spring of 2019, Ms. Varela voluntarily contacted the EDPA to resolve any prior criminal activity by 5Dimes, the firm said in its statement. "This settlement agreement is a direct result of Ms. Varela's extraordinary cooperation with the EDPA to resolve the criminal investigation and clear the Company."
As part of the settlement, Varela identified criminal assets associated with the company and agreed to forfeit more than $46 million in value to the government. The deal did not include disclosing information or identities of any customers, 5Dimes said.
As noted in the settlement agreement, the government's lengthy investigation confirmed that Varela was not involved in any illegal actions of 5Dimes. The agreement expressly clarifies there are no legal restrictions on Varela's use of her assets or the assets of the 5Dimes brand to explore future options, including, but not limited to, re-constituting the 5Dimes brand to be licensed to conduct legal, regulated gaming activities in the U.S. and internationally.
"It has been a very difficult two years for me and my family," Varela said. "But today marks a pivotal turning point and a fresh start for me and the 5Dimes brand, as well as a milestone for the legalization of sports gaming in the U.S. My husband's death was tragic, but he loved 5Dimes and all of its loyal customers. Now his spirit will be able to live on as the 5Dimes brand begins this new chapter."
Varela added, "Along with a team of trusted advisors, I am exploring how we might relaunch 5Dimes as a legal sportsbook and casino in the legal, regulated U.S. market to continue serving our many loyal customers."
Her attorney Stephen A. Miller of Cozen O'Connor said, "Ms. Varela is an inspiring, strong person, and we're excited that she is one step closer to participating in the regulated U.S. sports-betting market. It has been a privilege to represent her."
He added, "Consumer interest in sports betting is enormous and only growing, but most of that interest has translated to bets placed with offshore operators rather than with operators in the legal and regulated market. As a result, state governments are missing out on a substantial amount of tax revenue. Laura (Varela) presents U.S. regulators with a tremendous opportunity – she is the new owner of a tremendously respected brand that voluntarily settled its exposure with U.S. prosecutors and became compliant with U.S. law so that it could serve customers in appropriate jurisdictions. If the regulators refuse to license an innocent owner like Laura, then no other offshore sportsbook will even bother to try to clean up its act and follow her lead."
According to the company, the agreement required 5Dimes to stop servicing U.S. customers by September 30, 2020. To satisfy that demand, 5Dimes stopped taking bets from U.S. customers as of September 21, 2020, until it is reconstituted as a new, legal and licensed entity in the U.S. 5Dimes notified its players to suspend their accounts and transfer their balances by Sept. 25. Any customers who did not request a withdrawal of their funds by Sept. 25 will have those funds transferred to Epiq, a third-party claims administrator, who will seek to deliver the funds to the account holder. In compliance with the agreement, any customer funds that are not claimed by September 30, 2021, will be forfeited to the U.S. government.
5Dimes is an online sports betting, casino, bingo, lottery and live in-play betting. "Established in San Jose, Costa Rica, where sports betting is legal, our first casino was launched in November of 1996," the firm said in its statement. "Since then, 5Dimes has surpassed other operations by offering a giant selection of lines, some of the best odds, 24-hour customer service, reliable payouts and secure transactions."
Creighton's kidnapping made headlines in 2018 and 2019.
A year ago, on September 17, 2019, agents of the Judicial Investigation Organization confirmed that skeletal remains found buried in a property on the outskirts of Quepos Canton, Puntarenas Province, were those of U.S. citizen William Sean Creighton Kopko. The man known as Tony Creighton was the victim of a kidnapping.
According to the investigation, the human remains were analyzed by forensic specialists in laboratory tests, positively belonging to Creighton.
As the case remains under investigation, agents cannot reveal more details about the clues that led them to find the remains or the progress of the investigation.
However, in January 2019, agents offered information about advances in the case. At that time, Walter Espinoza, General Director of the Judicial Investigation Organization, provided more details about the investigation into the kidnapping of Creighton, which occurred on September 24, 2018.
The Anti-Kidnapping Unit of the Criminal Investigations Department recounted the details of what occurred after Creighton left his job in San Pedro to go to his home in Curridabat Canton, San José Province.
That night, two transit officers, one surnamed Medrano-Vargas and the other surnamed Jirón-López, who are now suspected of being part of the kidnapper's gang, followed Creighton.
When they reached the town of Granadilla District, the officers pretended they were making a routine traffic stop and asked Creighton to pull over.
He complied. A group of four men arrived at the site in a gray pickup truck and kidnapped him. Those suspects are identified as Morales-Vega, classified as the leader, Vega-Aguirre, Martínez-Chacón, and Ford-Dauman.
Ford-Dauman had previously been arrested for theft and resisting arrest, the report said.
The men forced the victim into the pickup and drove to a property in the village of La Trinidad District in Moravia Canton where the house of the gang leader’s grandmother, surnamed Aguirre-Leal.
Ford-Dauman, drove the victim’s car away, but for reasons that are still unclear, he crashed the car in the town of San Isidro in Heredia Province. The suspect communicated with the other kidnappers to report what happened and then left the car at the crash site. The vehicle was confiscated by the police and an investigative analysis was conducted to collect more evidence.
After taking the victim to the property in La Trinidad, the suspects communicated several times with relatives of the victim. At first, they asked for a ransom of $5 million dollars but a payment of $950,800 was accepted. The payment was made in Bitcoin currencies in four different accounts.
The fact that the payment was made in this type of virtual currency was of great help for the investigators who could follow the trail of the transaction until it reached three accounts belonging to three of the suspects.
"One of the Bitcoin accounts was accessed from the house of Morales-Vega identified as the leader, who lived in Cartago Province. This was a major clue that helped guide the investigation," Espinoza said.
Once the kidnappers received the ransom, all communication between the suspects and the victim’s family ceased, investigators said.
After accessing the victim's account from a device located in Cartago, Morales-Vega, left the country by land to Panama, then traveled to El Salvador and Cuba before finally traveling to Zaragoza, Spain.
Two other people also left Costa Rica. One is the leader's girlfriend, surnamed Solís-Chaves and the leader’s mother, surnamed Vega-Aguirre. Both women traveled to Cuba and then to Spain together.
Once they had gathered sufficient evidence, investigators contacted the Organized Crime Unit in Spain. Spanish investigators placed the three suspects under surveillance and monitored them for a period of approximately one month until a simultaneous raid could be coordinated in Costa Rica and Spain.
In Spain, with the help of the National Police, there was a search of a house in the city of Zaragoza where the following people were detained:
- A man surnamed Morales-Vega.
- A woman surnamed Solís-Chaves, identified as the wife of the leader.
- A woman surnamed Vega-Aguirre, identified as the mother of the leader.
The video of the arrest of the three suspects in Spain, provided by the Spanish police, can be seen on the AM Costa Rica Youtube channel.
In Costa Rica, investigators detained the following people:
-A woman surnamed Aguirre-Leal, identified as the leader's grandmother who lives on the property of La Trinidad where the victim was taken.
-A woman surnamed Sanabria-Abarca, who is suspected of having done surveillance work on the victim.
-A man surnamed Vega-Aguirre, the leader's brother and also part of the group of men who were in the pickup truck.
-A man surnamed Martínez-Chacón, who was another of the four men who traveled in the pickup.
-A man surnamed Ford-Dauman, who was the one who apparently handled the car of the victim which crashed the car in Heredia.
-A man surnamed Rivera-Masis, 64, an alleged member of the gang.
-A man surnamed Sánchez-Gamboa, an alleged member of the gang.
-A man surnamed Medrano-Vargas, a transit police officer.
-A man surnamed Jiron-Lopez, a transit police officer.
Investigators confirm that in December 2018, the suspects were extradited from Spain.
All the suspects have been held in cells of the Public Ministry since then. They are being interviewed and more evidence is underway.
Among the results of the investigation are the seizure of vehicles, evidence linking the suspects to the withdrawal of the money, information on the distribution of the money to members of the gang, communications between the suspects, and records confirming the places where some of the suspects watched and tracked the victim.
Investigators theorize that Creighton was targeted for two reasons: the victim had an important income as a result of his company of sport-books; and the gang members knew that the victim’s business involved Bitcoin. They probably thought that transactions in Bitcoin were more difficult to detect.
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