The Death of John Bender and a Miscarriage of Justice

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John Bender was one of the Market Wizards I interviewed. Besides being a phenomenal trader and a genius, he also used his wealth to establish a game preserve in Costa Rica to protect 5,000 acres of rainforest from destruction and poaching. Sadly, John Bender was bipolar, and in one of his depressive states, he committed suicide. His wife Ann, who anyone who knew the couple could attest was devoted to John, was charged with his murder. In her trial, she was unanimously acquitted by a 3-judge panel. There is no double jeopardy in Costa Rica and in a 2nd trial on the same charge, she was found guilty and sentenced to 22 years. This retrial and changed verdict seems very much tied into corruption and a theft of the assets in a trust John and Ann established, which includes the reserve and the funds to run it. John’s parents strongly support Ann, which says everything.

Short and long summaries of the facts written by a friend and neighbor of John and Ann who attended the trial are provided below.

The following link to a funding page established to help raise money for Ann’s defense also explains the facts.


Short Summary

John Bender, a wealthy investor, died of a gunshot wound in his home in Costa Rica in January 2010. The DA charged his wife, Ann Bender, with murder. Ann was proven innocent at her trial in 2013. The DA appealed and Ann was found guilty of murder at the second trial in2014. She is in custody and must serve 22 years in jail.

All of John and Ann’s assets were in a trust governed by an administrator. The only two beneficiaries of the trust are Ann and a nature reserve the couple established in Costa Rica. After John’s death, all of the trust assets disappeared. The CFO of the trust has testified that the trust administrator stole at least $20mn.  Ann has been trying to recover trust assets from the fraudulent trustee since mid 2012. Two of the prosecution’s witnesses changed their testimonies between the 2013 and 2014 murder trials and a third received payments from the same trust administrator. We believe Ann was unjustly convicted by a corrupt legal system and are concerned her life is in danger.  Your donations will go to her legal defense fund.

Long Summary

John Bender was a math genius who ran a successful investment fund with his wife Ann and his best friend Peter DeLisi. John and Ann closed the fund, moved to Costa Rica and dedicated their lives to saving the rainforest. They established a 5000 acre nature reserve and put US$70mn in a trust to ensure their nature reserve would survive forever. The only two beneficiaries of this massive trust are the nature reserve and Ann Bender.

Both John and Ann have documented psychiatric problems including bipolar disorder and suicidal tendencies. On January 8, 2010 John died of a single gunshot wound to the head. Ann has always maintained John tried to kill himself and she tried to stop him. But the local district attorney opened a murder investigation against Ann and a court date was set for January 2013.

John and Ann’s $70mn trust was managed by a lawyer named Juan de Dios Alvarez.  In 2012, Alvarez’ offices were raided by the police and he was removed from trust management for failure of fiduciary duty. All of the trust’s liquid assets – approximately $40mn – have disappeared. In addition, property titles to trust assets have been transferred to companies outside the trust umbrella.  The trust’s CFO testified in a CR court “Alvarez acted as though the trust was his”. In a court deposition in 2012, the CFO testified he knew of at least $20mn stolen by Alvarez. Ann Bender has lodged a preliminary financial fraud court case against Alvarez to try to recover the trust’s assets.

Ann was ruled innocent at her murder trial in January 2013. There is no double jeopardy statute in Costa Rica, so the DA immediately filed for appeal. Appeal was granted and the second murder trial against Ann concluded on Tuesday May 28, 2014.  She was found guilty and sentenced to 22 years in prison. Ann was immediately remanded to a psychiatric hospital’s suicide ward where she is under guard. When deemed healthy, she will be sent to prison.

Two of the prosecution’s witnesses markedly changed their testimonies from the first murder trial in 2013 to the second murder trial in 2014. In 2013, the forensics doctor said suicide was possible. In 2014 the same doctor said suicide was impossible. In the 2013 trial, one of Ann’s former employees said Ann was frail and unhealthy at the time of John’s death but she had a loving relationship with John. In the 2014 trial, the same employee said Ann was healthy and the couple had an argument the day of John’s death.  His revised testimony differed materially from the testimony of four other employees who testified at the 2014 trial.

Another key prosecution witness in 2014 was arguably ethically compromised. A ballistics expert who testified in the 2014 trial said the ballistics evidence showed homicide.  In 2010, this same ballistics expert was paid by Alvarez to write a ballistics report about John’s death. (The invoice of this payment was found in the police raid on Alvarez’ office.) This 2010 ballistics report was likely used by Alvarez to claim $14mn from John’s life insurance policy.  The whereabouts of this $14mn are unknown.

In early 2013, the Costa Rican government appointed an interim trust manager named Mario Gomez to manage the trust. As mentioned, the only two beneficiaries of the trust are the nature reserve and Ann. Yet Mario Gomez has not visited the nature reserve in the year since he has been appointed. He has not called either of the two employees who are managing the reserve. Nor has he paid any of the reserve employees. Mario has not disbursed any money to Ann to cover her legal or medical fees.

For the last three years, all of Ann’s living expenses and all of the salaries of the nature reserve’s employees have been paid by family and friends.  But this nightmare has drug on for years and we are all tapped out.

We are asking for financial donations to cover Ann’s legal defense. Some of this money will be used to mount a media campaign to draw attention to Ann’s plight. Ann suffers from lyme disease so is both physically and mentally frail. We are concerned she will not survive prison. We are concerned the missing trust money will be used to ensure she never leaves prison alive.

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