By Donald WittkowskiWith less than three weeks to go before Christmas, Santa Claus is getting a huge helping hand from a local charity and a venerable Ocean City hotel.A table in the lobby of the Port-O-Call Hotel brimmed Tuesday night with hundreds of toys of virtually every type imaginable – Teddy bears, Barbie doll sets, Star Wars action figures, dinosaurs, miniature trucks, boxes of crayons, coloring books and much, much more.This Christmas largesse stems from an annual toy drive that pairs the Port-O-Call with the Ocean City Waves of Caring charity.A record crowd of more than 150 people attended the holiday party and charity event at the Port-O-Call Hotel.A Who’s Who of the Ocean City political, business and social scene turned out Tuesday night for a private holiday party and charity event that celebrated the partnership between Waves of Caring and the Port-O-Call.“It’s growing every year,” Jim Smith, Ocean City’s fire chief and chairman of Waves of Caring, said of the event, now in its ninth year. “I think it’s because of the quality of the people who are attending it. Plus, the Port-O-Call outdoes itself by putting out a great spread.”More than 150 people packed the party, a record number. While walking through the hotel lobby, they passed by the table that was crowded with all of the toys, as well as gift certificates and other donations, made to Waves of Caring to help needy local families.Mayor Jay Gillian and Councilman Antwan McClellan were among the dignitaries at the affair.Beth Pruzinsky, the Port-O-Call’s controller and one of the organizers of the toy drive, could only guess at the number of donated items collected by the hotel staff.“There are several hundred toys,” she said. “There are also some gift certificates, coats and books that have been donated. But the majority is toys.”Pruzinsky and Smith thanked Port-O-Call’s owners for their support of the toy drive. The ownership group includes brothers Michael and James Scully and Michael’s daughter, Jessica Scully, Pruzinsky said.The Port-O-Call, a landmark at 15th Street and the Boardwalk since 1966, is affectionately known as the “Pink Lady” for its distinctive color scheme.The hotel started its partnership with Waves of Caring 23 years ago. Pruzinsky said Port-O-Call is the largest single donator to the toy drive.“It’s the kind of company that encourages everybody on the staff of the hotel to help out the charity,” she said.Port-O-Call’s toy collection started modestly in 1993, consisting of a donation bin at a small employee holiday party. Now, the hotel’s donations cover more than half of the expenses that are required to run the Waves of Caring annual toy drive, Smith said.“We couldn’t be more grateful to have them as a major supporter – and we look forward to joining forces to help others less fortunate once again in 2016,” Smith said in a statement.Jim Smith, chairman of Waves of Caring, thanked the Port-O-Call for its support of the toy drive over the past 23 years.Nearly 400 toys and $2,700 in monetary donations were collected during the record-breaking 2015 event. Glenn Losch, the Port-O-Call’s general manager, noted that everyone is hopeful of setting a new record in 2016.“The true spirit of giving was alive and well, which is why our event is so important to the management and staff at the Port-O-Call Hotel,” Losch said in a statement. “We look forward to another wonderful event this year and for many years to come.”Waves of Caring is a city-sanctioned charity that collects and distributes toys and other gifts around the Christmas holiday for children of underprivileged Ocean City families. It has also launched a new program, called “Holiday Helpings,” to provide holiday meals for needy local families.Pianist Ingrid Forss provided the musical entertainment in the hotel lobby. Port-O-Call Controller Beth Pruzinsky, left, joins Waves of Caring board members Jim Smith, Patricia Smith, Debbie Buckley, Dana Linthicum and Frank Donato.
By Dialogo June 21, 2013 SAN JOSÉ — Costa Rica-based digital currency giant Liberty Reserve shut down June 6 following a criminal investigation in what U.S. officials are calling the largest money laundering bust in history. The business’s founder, naturalized Costa Rican citizen Arthur Budovsky, was arrested in Spain along with another company principal, Azzeddine El Amine, Spanish authorities reported. Three others including Budovsky’s partner, Vladimir Kats, have been arrested in the case and two are still at large in Costa Rica, said the case’s New York prosecutors. U.S. officials allege that the company has moved about $6 billion in the last seven years and knowingly transferred money in at least 55 million illegal transactions. The seven men are charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering, conspiracy to operate unlicensed money transmitting business and operation of an unlicensed money transmitting business, according to an indictment filed in New York. That indictment said the men “intentionally created, structured, and operated Liberty Reserve as a criminal business venture, one designed to help criminals conduct illegal transactions and launder the proceeds of their crimes.” Police raid 8 sites associated with laundering operation The Liberty Reserve site allowed users to buy the company’s digital currency and make instant money transfers using only a name, email address and date of birth. The company ran its servers out of Costa Rica and was not registered with U.S. authorities. Authorities raided eight sites in Costa Rica including six companies Budovsky was involved with as well as two private homes, the San José-based Tico Times newspaper reported. Police seized computers, paperwork and three vehicles worth more than $500,000 in total. Following the arrests, French Development Minister Pascal Canfin listed Costa Rica along with 16 other countries on a blacklist of the world’s top tax havens. Costa Rica’s Finance Ministry denied the country’s inclusion on the list in a press release and a clarification was later released by the French government. Costa Rica was included in the original blacklist in 2010, but was removed in 2012. Currently, Costa Rica is listed in the U.S. State Department’s annual money laundering report as a country of “primary concern” for money laundering. The report estimates that $4.47 billion in illegal funds filters through Costa Rica every year. Costa Rica establishes bureau to fight money laundering The Central American country counters that it has made significant reforms in an attempt to cut down on money laundering. In 2010, it established the Economic Crimes, Taxation and Money Laundering Bureau. Celso Gamboa, a vice-minister with the Public Security Ministry, said that has led to a “significant increase” in prosecution of money laundering cases. Costa Rica has also cracked down on the financial freedom of foreigners living within its borders. Since July 2012, foreigners residing within Costa Rica have been barred from opening bank accounts without an official foreign personal identification document known as a DIMEX card. Before, anyone could open a bank account with only a passport. In addition, Costa Rica has joined a list of 50 countries updating their systems in preparation for the U.S. Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, which requires countries to supply tax information to the Internal Revenue Service about U.S. citizens living abroad. Costa Rica is expected to be in full compliance by Jan. 1, 2014. “In just four years our country has gone from being considered internationally uncooperative financially to a nation used as a regional example for fiscal transparency,” the Foreign Trade Ministry said in a press release.