“They completely threw our lives away, they did us irreparable damage. There are many people who see you as a criminal because they don’t know the truth,” he justifies. José Orlando Gil, who believed in the Divino Niño Jesús de Praga pyramid. The man was pointed out as one of the files of that organization in Tunja.
What started as an investment of 250,000 pesos became a sentence of 13 years in jail. During that time everything collapsed: the marriage, the possibility of seeing their three children grow up and the hope of sharing with the family. Three months after being released, his mother fell ill and died.
(In context: This is how the Divino Niño Jesús de Praga pyramid fell).
“I hope… This thing is complicated. This leaves years unrepaired,” she adds as she tries to hold back tears.
It was not an affiliate anymore
There are many people who don’t know if I’m alive, if I got out of jail. What interests me is that they repair the victims, that they return their money
Like thousands of Colombians, at the time of the rise of illegal money collectors, the man from Tunja saw an opportunity to receive profits in a matter of weeks. Around 2008, he traveled to Villavicencio, where he met what was called the Divine Child Jesus of Prague Foundation.
“They told us that it was a foundation for parents who were doing something very interesting. They told us about the social part, the objective was to help mothers who are heads of households and unprotected people to grant them housing subsidies and, ultimately, improve the quality of life for poor people”.
(You can read: The tentacles of the Divino Niño Jesús de Praga pyramid in Casanare).
A month later, they returned the initial 250,000 pesos. Enthusiasm increased because they promised to give him the same value for 12 months, so he traveled to Villavicencio for the third time to receive the quota.
Between extensive lines of animated people, sheets with countless names and bills of all kinds of denominations, they gave him “good” news: he would no longer have to go to the capital of Meta because They would open offices in Tunja, Boyacá, so that he would come every month without fail. But they did not want him as another investor, they proposed that he collaborate as an employee in the new headquarters.
“They knew about my business as a merchant. They showed me their Chamber of Commerce and the documents of the supposed social management, everything they did. That gave me confidence. The following Monday I entered as coordinator of the Tunja office, ”he points out in a conversation with EL TIEMPO.
(Also: Be careful! They denounce a new pyramid scheme in Colombia).
He recommended to his sister that she bring the resume, since the ‘foundation’ was at its best. She assumed a position in the commercial direction.
There were about ten employees who began on April 2, 2008 to serve hundreds of Boyacá residents, who came to the facilities with the hope of ‘earning a few pesos’, since they were assured of a 1,200% return.
Money that ‘came in and out’
By word of mouth, as in other parts of Colombia, the Tunja office remained full. José Orlando Gil, totally confident, also invited his family, friends and other acquaintances to invest. According to his calculations, in the time he was there he was able to see more than five thousand citizens.
If a cleaning or stationery person was needed, they would call Villavicencio and they would take care of everything. I made a certificate of delivery to the person who took the money and that was all.
From all professions and strata, people approached with amounts from 100,000 pesos to 4,500,000 pesos -which was the maximum limit for each member-. The instruction given by his superiors was that only one billion pesos could be collected per day.
(Of your interest: Head of the ‘pyramid’ of the Divine Child transferred assets before his capture).
“As coordinator of the office, I saw that everything worked and was aware of what was needed. If a cleaning or stationery person was needed, he would call Villavicencio and they would take care of everything. I made a certificate of delivery to the person who took the money and that was it, ”she recalls. The money was transported in cars to Villavicencio.
Gil received his first payment after 15 days of operation of the office: everything was returned to him. Since he had already contributed 250,000 pesos, he invested the remainder to complete the 4,500,000 pesos allowed, expecting to receive a higher monthly installment with interest.
‘They don’t give so much of that so good’
The employees were summoned to the capital of Meta for an event with the directives in May 2008, but they disappeared. One weekend they lost track of those who ran the company at the national level.
“José Orlando realized that he was in trouble because the people did not show up. He called me, I advised him as a lawyer and as a friend and I told him to file a complaint with the Prosecutor’s Office, ”says Fernando Joya.
There was no search because I voluntarily handed over everything, computers and documentation. I am a complainant, I became a collaborator and in the end I was involved
The Tunja headquarters closed on May 5, 2008. The employees, not knowing what was happening, stopped serving customers. Due to the fear that spread from mouth to mouth, dozens of affiliates crowded in front of the office in search of explanations. They wanted the money back, only it was no longer there, neither in the city nor in the department.
(Also read: Were you a victim of DMG? This is how the settlement process goes).
“I denounced the Prosecutor’s Office, I collaborated with the information I had, I asked them to receive me at the offices. There was no search because I voluntarily handed over everything, computers and documentation. I am a complainant, I became a collaborator and in the end I was involved ”, he assures. For him it was a “mistake” to have given the investigators “everything on a silver platter.”
The pyramid that only had a name for ‘holy’
In a matter of weeks the world came crashing down on the employees and, of course, the affiliates who were following the news how their savings had ended up in the hands of a criminal network.
The ‘foundation’ was a façade, as the heads had fraudulently used the name of the real Fundación Divino Niño Jesús de Praga based in Medellín to give the appearance of legality to the massive fundraising. With Chamber of Commerce and other false documents they claimed to be the religious organization.
(In context: Six officials of the Divino Niño Jesús de Praga pyramid were captured and sent to prison).
Initially, they captured José Orlando’s sister and other officials. They also had a file on him, he even saw his face on the television news as part of the organization chart of the illegal money collector.
“I called the lawyer Joya. He asked me: ‘What do you intend to do?’ I told him: ‘I’m not going to hide, if we have to face the situation, let’s go forward.’ I turned myself in to the Prosecutor’s Office on the third day.”
On July 21, 2009, he was charged with the crimes of massive and habitual collection of money, conspiracy to commit a crime, money laundering, aggravated fraud and refusal of reimbursementas it rests in the court file.
He rejected the charges and any agreement with the prosecutor because he wanted to prove to them that he was not an accomplice or author, but that he fell for trust. He hoped that the accusing body would recognize his help at first: “I did not accept any of those commitments and what I did was continue until the last, always with the expectation of showing the truth. And no… In the end they condemned us”.
(Keep reading: This is how 5,000 million pesos were stolen with a pyramid scam).
The case was not defended by his friend Fernando Joya; it was assumed by another lawyer hired by his family. José Orlando assures that this criminal, despite the fact that he assisted him, did not do “the right thing” to demonstrate the judge’s innocence and the will that he had when he denounced.
Pyramid brain drop
During the trial it was concluded that together with eight other people -among them his sister- “they were part of that organization in leadership and management positions.” In addition, it was established that “their work was focused on the collection, administration, custody, protection and transportation of the money collected from the public, which they disposed of in a way that hid its origin, and finally defrauded those who delivered their capital there appropriated for their own benefit and/or that of third parties,” the file states.
6,297 people contributed money during the month that the Tunja office was open. So, in total they raised more than 14 billion pesos for the heads of the pyramid, who at that time were in complete freedom.
The court sentenced the employees, including Gil, to 158 months in jail and a fine of 1,180 current legal monthly minimum wages (more than 668 million pesos for 2012 when the ruling was made known). Her sister was granted house arrest for being the head of the family.
Although they presented the appeals, the Superior Court of Tunja and the Supreme Court of Justice confirmed the sentence. “Everything that was done later was in vain,” says José Orlando.
He assumed prison with a demolished life: he separated from his wife, his children did not visit him because they were not even aware that he was sentenced… Nobody heard from him for years until he was granted parole in 2016.
Days after his departure, he saw on the news how they had captured Heyller Dohan Torres and other of the leaders of the pyramidwhom relatives had betrayed after more than eight years of having disappeared with the millions collected in Tunja, Villavicencio and other cities.
(We recommend: The luxuries of the head of the Infant Jesus of Prague pyramid).
Torres, when it was verified that he led the organization, received a 9-year sentence because he accepted the charges and because of an agreement with the Prosecutor’s Office after which he handed over properties valued at more than 18 billion pesos. He did not go to jail for being the head of the family; he was in house arrest.
The irreparable years
I tend to be very positive and I think other people are too.
José Orlando has already served his sentence. With a new life outside of Tunja, she works to help her three children and make up for the years she was not with them. He is also waiting to recover several of the rights that were taken from him, such as financial ones, since he still cannot access accounts or apply for credit.
(Do not stop reading: More complaints reveal the dark side of businessman Heyller Torres).
Nor does he want to be branded as a criminal; He seeks -when he has the necessary economic resources and if there is a legal possibility- to undertake a criminal review of his case “to see if both the prosecutor, the lawyers and the judge did things correctly or not.”
“There are many people who don’t know if I’m alive, if I got out of jail. What interests me is that they repair the victims, that they return their money ”, he insists.
With 58 years reflected in his gray hair, he has now learned – the hard way – not to be trusting: “I tend to be very positive and I think other people are too.”
How is the reparation for the victims of the pyramid going? Wait for a next installment of this case.
SEBASTIAN GARCIA C.
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