We’re Millionaires [Part 2] – Translation
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[Daniel Alarcón]: Welcome to Radio Ambulante from NPR. I’m Daniel Alarcón.
In the last episode…
[Maribel Valoy]: It happened like that, all of a sudden. One day I went and they were already talking about the money that was internationally, that belonged to our ancestors.
[José Cepeda]: Johnny Portorreal said himself on one occasion that each heir would get more than 11 billion Dominican pesos.
[Johnny Portorreal]: We’re in the best conditions, never before seen nor dreamed of, for the Rosario family, if justice is done, to be one of the richest families in our country.
[Daniel]: If you haven’t listened to it, pause this episode and go to the previous one. You need to if you want to understand what comes next.
In summary, we told the story of the search for an alleged inheritance of billions of dollars, that was owed to about 30,000 Dominicans. All of them with the last name Rosario. Rumor had it that the money was being kept in European banks, in Spain and Switzerland specifically. And a lawyer named Johnny Portorreal was the person in charge of recovering the fortune for the whole family.
For years, Portorreal insisted and insisted that the money would come soon.
But it still hasn’t arrived.
And while all the Rosarios waited anxiously, one person decided to raise her voice.
[Anibelca Rosario]: To the Rosarios, know that this is a scam, that they’re playing on your ignorance and your poverty.
[Daniel]: This is Anibelca Rosario, a Dominican journalist. She works as a commentator for a very popular radio show, Zol de la Mañana. And the audio we just heard is from May 24th, 2018, the day she dared to call out the lawyer, Johnny Portorreal. It had already been seven years since Portorreal had started recruiting thousands of Rosarios.
And Anibelca’s comments would crack open one of the biggest financial mysteries in the history of the Dominican Republic.
Mónica Cordero and Luis Trelles investigated this story.
[Mónica]: Anibelca heard the story of the inheritance a few months before she would call out Portorreal on the radio. First, it was on a phone call with her mom, and then she learned more details at a family lunch by the sea.
[Anibelca]: We were meeting because we were planning on celebrating Mother’s Day.
[Mónica]: It was a nice day with loved ones, until her mom started talking about the inheritance.
[Anibelca]: She said, “There’s an inheritance that’s going to benefit the Rosarios.” I said, “Seriously? You believe that?” She said, “Of course!” And I said, “But did your great grandfather have money? Did your great-great-grandfather have money or property?” She said, “No, it comes from the Spaniards.”
[Mónica]: One of Anibelca’s uncles, who lived in the United States, had learned about the inheritance, and had invited his seven brothers to join.
That uncle had joined one of the enormous WhatsApp groups we were talking about in the previous episode. Those that were managed by Portorreal’s coordinators or a Rosario who was anxious for news.
It’s hundreds of people actively participating, talking about the inheritance, and getting messages from Portorreal, who explains how he supposedly was getting closer and closer to getting it.
It all seems very strange to Anibelca. And she started asking questions. She spoke with the uncle who had gotten her mother involved in the inheritance, but she realized how powerful that idea was when she traveled to San Francisco de Macorís, in the northeastern part of the island.
[Anibelca]: Then they said, “There’s a lawyer who has taken on the case. And Johnny Portorreal is the spokesman. The whole family really believes in him. They do what he says.”
[Mónica]: That day, Anibelca’s mom was very excited.
[Anibelca]: And that’s when she tells me that the next day she had to go to the Reserve Bank to get a PIN.
[Mónica]: The PIN, remember, is a QR code, the kind you scan with your phone. It has the person’s name and personal identification number. And Portorreal’s office charged 500 pesos for that, about 12 dollars in 2018.
With that PIN, according to the lawyer, the heirs could access the bank account where the money would be deposited. Her aunts and uncles had already paid for their pins. Anibelca’s mother had everything clear.
[Anibelca]: “In two months they’re going to give us the inheritance. And we have… that PIN is so they can deposit the money in our accounts.”
[Mónica]: The rumor was that the deposit would be millions of dollars for each heir, and that the money was going to be deposited in the State bank, the largest bank in the Dominican Republic: BanReservas.
[Anibelca]: And then they explained somewhat how the network worked.
[Mónica]: A network in which the connecting points were Portorreal’s coordinators.
[Anibelca]: Who were the people who they sent their birth certificates to and their money, especially their money. And those coordinators were the ones who had you sign documents that honestly were nonsense.
The individual amounts weren’t so high. The trick was, uh, a chaining effect. In other words, it’s a lot of people, even if it’s for small amounts.
[Mónica]: Imagine it, about 30,000 people paying about 50 dollars. That comes out to, at a minimum, 1.5 million dollars at that time. A fortune.
[Anibelca]: In that moment, seeing how my mom believed the story, how her sisters believe that story, I said, “Wait, let me dig into this a little more.”
[Mónica]: A few days later, Anibelca went to Johnny Portorreal’s office, the Law Center. And she discovered what we already explained in the last episode: the second and third floors of a building with narrow halls, full of countless people waiting in line with nowhere to sit.
There were also two guards with long rifles. And that’s because you could see that there was a lot of money changing hands in cash.
[Anibelca]: You went in, you paid. The next person went in. “Give me this much.” It was crazy.
[Mónica]: Anibelca asked to speak with Portorreal.
[Anibelca]: So they told me that to get to Johnny I had to go through his coordinators.
[Mónica]: Anibelca insisted. She wanted to meet the lawyer she had heard so much about. But the coordinators at the office asked her:
[Anibelca]: “Are you an heir?” And I said, “No, I want to know if I’m an heir.” Then they said, “No, you have to determine that.”
[Mónica]: Determine it. In other words, she had to send in her personal documents and probably pay for some service.
She had to leave without speaking to Portorreal. But she kept on investigating. She looked into it with some acquaintances at the Attorney General’s Office. They told her that they knew about the rumors of the inheritance, but that there was no official complaint. She asked at the bank and spoke with several of the alleged heirs.
[Anibelca]: And I realize that the topic of the inheritance is a secret, but it’s an open secret. Everyone knows about it. A lot of people believe in it. Other people don’t, but it had every likelihood of continuing to grow.
[Mónica]: And that was when she couldn’t take it anymore, and she made a comment about it on her radio show.
[Anibelca]: So that man is encouraging, compelling, toying with, threatening his followers to get them to open savings accounts with the Reserve Bank of the Dominican Republic. And the Reserve Bank knows it’s a scam.
[Mónica]: And she called on the authorities in the country.
[Anibelca]: How could the authorities not know? Because, since our population is uneducated, since our population is eager to get out of poverty, they’re drawn to any crazy savior, so someone has to sound the… the alarm.
[Mónica]: It was the first time someone had said publicly that the supposed Rosario inheritance was a fraud on a massive scale.
[Anibelca]: What is stated in the documents is that there is a major scam that the authorities know about or at least have legitimate suspicions of and they refuse to act.
[Mónica]: Anibelca’s accusations were very serious, and she was making them on a show that a lot of people in Santo Domingo listen to.
Portorreal’s followers jumped to his defense. Right then, Hilario Amparo called the station. He introduced himself as the head of the international committee of the Law Center, meaning, Portorreal’s office.
[Hilario Amparo]: We have six accounts with Santander Bank in Spain. Two of them are under the name of José Margarita, Jacinto Rosario’s grandfather, and four are under the name of Celedonio de Rosario.
[Mónica]: He insisted that a portion of the money had already come into the Dominican Republic.
[Hilario]: Currently we don’t have all the accounts in the country, but there are accounts whose value exceeds 100 billion euros. Currently, there is money in the Reserve Bank. And in the coming days, there is going to be a press conference where this will be announced formally to the country and the Rosarios, because this is a transformative moment for the country.
[Mónica]: It’s a little hard to understand him, but what Hilario is saying is that there are already accounts with more than 100 billion euros in the Reserve Bank. So you can get an idea of what that means: all Dominicans abroad could stop sending money back to their families on the island for more than 17 years with that money.
The press conference where they were going to give evidence of that money never happened. What did happen is that Portorreal responded to those accusations as the kind of person he is: a litigator.
[Reporter]: Lawyer Johnny Portorreal accuses journalist Anibelca Rosario of defamation.
[Mónica]: And he sued her.
[Reporter]: The report of the alleged scam was made by journalist Anibelca Rosario, which spurred Johnny Portorreal to bring forth a defamation lawsuit.
[Mónica]: The report made it to Anibelca’s hands, and she knew that she had to meet with her bosses. The radio station was involved.
[Anibelca]: I was at the radio station. And I received a summons. Immediately I knew what it was about, and I can tell you that I was afraid, yes.
[Mónica]: It was the first time she had been sued.
[Anibelca]: And I had to sit in the defendant’s seat. The summons. The whole thing was… it was a problem, even financially, because hiring a lawyer costs money.
[Mónica]: Local media inevitably became interested in the conflict between Anibelca and Johnny Portorreal. The lawyer said he felt attacked.
[Johnny]: She is accusing me of being a thief. And she’s accusing me of being a scammer. And they have condemned me throughout the country.
[Mónica]: And he was trying to paint Anibelca as the real enemy of the Rosario family.
[Johnny]: Who’s scamming the Rosarios? Extorters! Discreditors!
[Mónica]: But the tone of the situation intensified. The attorney general for the National District at the time, Yeni Berenice, started seeing messages on social media about the inheritance. She looked for more information and she started getting WhatsApp audio messages.
That’s how she decided to get behind the case. She wrote on Twitter, “There’s an open investigation.” And she shared the official press release that said, “The presumed heirs of the Rosario family who have given money in exchange for an alleged multi-million dollar inheritance should contact the District Attorney General’s Office.”
At the same time, the Bar Association also opened an investigation into Portorreal.
[Anibelca]: So there was a series of formal recognitions of the situation that strengthened my… my claim.
[Mónica]: Some of Portorreal’s followers tried to intimidate Anibelca with warnings and threats.
[Anibelca]: And I was also afraid for my physical safety because in their own chats, in an… anonymous calls to my cell phone, they were telling me that… plain and simple, uh, I wasn’t going to make it out of this alive.
[Mónica]: It was a tense environment.
[Anibelca]: So there were a lot of sectors that had to watch out for. It was for… that was part of the reason why the law enforcement agencies convinced me to allow them to escort me.
[Mónica]: It was July 2018 and almost two months had passed since Anibelca had reported that the Rosario family inheritance was a scam. The police recommended that she be escorted to the court on the day of her first hearing. Anibelca agreed.
On July 12th, 2018, she had her first hearing of the trial. Anibelca arrived early, before 9 a.m.
[Anibelca]: What surprised me was that we were a block away from the Palace of Justice and it was totally blocked off.
[Mónica]: Portorreal had organized a vigil at the Palace of Justice, so the heirs could show their support.
[Johnny]: In a line with people circling the… the palace, hand in hand, like Joshua at Jericho, to topple the malignant alters.
[Anibelca]: It was all walled off and on one end, at a park, there’s a park nearby, the Rosario family was concentrated there, shouting.
[Reporter]: While this was transpiring at the Palace of Justice in Ciudad Nueva, outside dozens of people who say they are members of the Rosario family are holding a vigil to support Portorreal.
[Heiress]: We are the millionaires now. Eh? What’s happening? Now everyone wants to be where the doctor is.
[Heiress 2]: And based on his word, we believe in him and first in God, that this is so.
[Anibelca]: They escorted me into the Palace of Justice, but through the back door. The plan was to keep me out of their reach, even out of view.
[Mónica]: Now in the courtroom, Anibelca and Portorreal saw each other in person. It was the first time.
[Anibelca]: He was at the left end of the courtroom, which is about a 400 square-foot room. And I, well, I was on the right. He looked over at me a lot, but when I tried to look at him, he wouldn’t look back at me. It was a game. It was like, “I’m looking at you, but when you look at me, I’m not looking at you.” And… and all that.
[Mónica]: But the proceeding didn’t take long, the judge gave her time to prepare her case and get a lawyer. And they only set the date for the second hearing…
[Anibelca]: And the following day, there was a very unambiguous response from the Reserve Bank., validating what I was saying.
[Mónica]: BanReservas, where Portorreal said he was going to deposit the money, published an official press release in a few newspapers in the country. The bank very clearly denied any connection to the Rosarios’ inheritance, and they insisted that they never handled any funds from that family.
[Reporter]: The report by journalist Anibelca Rosario about the apparent fraud is strengthened by the denial of the Reserve Bank, which clarifies that it has not received a single penny of the presumed inheritance, as the attorney Johnny Portorreal states.
[Mónica]: Portorreal tried to do damage control in the WhatsApp groups. He sent messages saying that the press release from BanReservas was due to rumors, that the people responsible were…
[Johnny]: Enemies from within our client family and a smear campaign.
[Mónica]: And he also gave a warning.
[Johnny]: We’re being harmed, uh, in the work that we’ve already undertaken internationally, by being accused of being scammers and thieves.
[Mónica]: In other words, the European banks that had the inheritance could stop communicating with them because of the accusations being made against them.
Things weren’t looking good for Portorreal. In August of 2018, almost a month after the meeting at the judicial court.
[Reporter]: Johnny Portorreal was arrested late this Tuesday at the International Airport of the Americas. There is an alert against him for fraud, imposed by the Attorney General of the National District…
[Mónica]: Portorreal was trying to fly to Madrid when he was arrested. After a few hours of interrogation by the attorney general, he was let go.
[Anibelca]: All this happened at once, and wow! So all that confirmed what I was saying.
[Mónica]: And on top of that, Anibelca was surprised when the second meeting in the courts arrived, a few days after Portorreal was questioned.
[Anibelca]: Then there wasn’t the same tumult of people. There were people there but not like the last time.
[Mónica]: Portorreal’s support was plummeting. And the outcome felt inevitable.
[Reporter]: Attorney Johnny Portorreal dropped the slander and defamation suit he had brought against Anibelca Rosario.
[Mónica]: Portorreal had to prove that Anibelca was lying in order to continue with the lawsuit, but he decided to withdraw it, and the case was closed.
On the other hand, 13 Rosario heirs responded to the Attorney General’s call to bring a complaint against Portorreal. They said they had paid the lawyer nearly $1,800 and had not received any million-dollar deposit.
And in October of 2018, the Bar Association suspended Portorreal’s license for two years.
[Daniel]: That seemed to be the end to Portorreal’s plans and the dream of getting Jacinto Rosario’s gold.
But it wasn’t.
We’ll be back after the break.
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[Daniel]: We’re back with Radio Ambulante, I’m Daniel Alarcón. Before the break, we heard about the legal battle between journalist Anibelca Rosario and attorney Johnny Portorreal. Anibelca accused Portorreal of fraud and the lawyer brought a defamation suit against her which he later dropped.
Anibelca’s claim seemed to be the end of the road for Portorreal and his network of heirs. Then came more accusations against the lawyer, an arrest at the airport, and the suspension of his license. But that didn’t stop Portorreal.
Mónica Cordero continues the story.
[Mónica]: Here at Radio Ambulante, we tried to speak with Portorreal so he could give his version of this whole story. After months of trying to speak with him, his press advisor told me, to my surprise, that he was willing to give an interview.
Luis Trelles traveled from Puerto Rico to Santo Domingo to record the interview that I would conduct from New York. He had all of Portorreal’s contacts, and he told me that as soon as he got off the plane, he got a message.
It was Ramón Hidalgo, the person in charge of press relations for Portorreal. At the last minute, they sent him a new address. They had changed the location of the interview and now it was at a restaurant in a neighborhood on the other end of the city.
[Luis Trelles]: I have to ask the Uber to… to change the… the address. I’m struggling to… to get there. I get to the address. There’s no restaurant at that address. And now I’m thinking, “This is how this guy is trying to dodge us.”
[Mónica]: The restaurant finally appeared, two blocks away from the address they sent him. It had a different name from what they had said originally.
[Luis]: I don’t know what all the confusion was about. I get out. There are four people waiting for me. Uh, I thought they were, uh, associates of his at the office. I’m… What’s going through my head is: “An interview at a restaurant. This isn’t going to be the best audio environment for recording.”
[Mónica]: But what was waiting for him was even stranger. Portorreal’s four associates brought him into the back room.
[Luis]: And in the back room there’s a large rectangular table, like at a press conference. At the center of the table there’s a gigantic Dominican Flag and sitting in the middle of the table is Johnny Portorreal, waiting for me.
[Mónica]: The plan was for Luis to call me when the equipment was ready. I was going to ask Portorreal some questions over the phone and Luis would record his answers. And when Luis called me, this was what I heard on the phone:
[Luis]: Mónica, I’m here with 30, 35 heirs of the Rosario family, and with the attorney Johnny Portorreal. Again, all the Rosarios here, please clap your hands (applause).
[Mónica]: Portorreal had enlisted 30 close collaborators. It seemed more like a press conference than an intimate interview like we had agreed to do. But still, we decided to continue.
We started with Cotuí, where the gold mine is. Portorreal recalled his impression when he went there for the first time in early 2012.
[Johnny]: It was the poorest place I had ever seen. With… Getting water from a well, which they did by hand, and doing their business in holes and in latrines.
[Mónica]: He also learned about the family’s story. And Jacinto. And I was surprised that the version he told me was different.
According to Portorreal, Jacinto was a 19th-century merchant who originally sold wood, which he got from his land in Cibao. In other words, the gold mine that the heirs were talking about hadn’t been the main source of his fortune. But, according to Portorreal, that fortune ended up in three large international banks that were founded in that period.
[Johnny]: Wells Fargo, which now is Santander, and Credit Suisse, in Switzerland. With that money and gold, those three banks were created, which started being the first logging associations, in which Jacinto was the representative of the Dominican Republic.
[Mónica]: Portorreal told us that on that first visit, he realized that the Rosarios could be millionaires, but instead, they were living in extreme poverty.
[Johnny]: Knowing who these people were related to, after looking into it, well, I was further motivated to have to… to push myself a little, because the… those country people needed a leader to appear.
[Mónica]: And that is how Johnny Portorreal described what led him to be the leader of the Rosario family.
[Johnny]: More than the money, uh, I… serving my country as a soldier of God had always been my north star and it’s what had made me like… like… like a leader.
[Mónica]: According to Portorreal, that concern for the rural residents of Cotuí was what brought him to offer his services. But according to him, he was doing it for free.
[Johnny]: No one had to pay anything. If you proved that you were an heir, with the papers you brought, you were in.
[Mónica]: But throughout our investigation, we had heard something very different. One heir after another had spoken to us about payments for contracts, PINs, vouchers. And hundreds upon hundreds of Dominican pesos that had been paid at Portorreal’s office.
However, in our interview, he denied it. He insisted that he didn’t charge any money for the Rosarios’ case.
[Johnny]: No, but that’s not… that isn’t a fee. That’s a service I provide for them. That’s a service that’s given to them. Because we can’t provide services to… to thousands of people, putting even our own money in.
[Mónica]: Payment for service, fee, it doesn’t matter what you call it. The heirs had given him a lot of money. So I continued to push him on that point.
He had told us that he was a lawyer who was so committed to the Rosario family, that he had decided to take on the case to serve the country. That it wasn’t for money. But a few minutes later he told us something very different.
[Johnny]: In other words, it’s… it’s a very erroneous concept on the part of people who believe that we’re doing some sort of philanthropic service. And much less for people who are looking for millions of pesos, that you have to do everything for 30,000 people.
[Mónica]: And then he insisted again.
[Johnny]: But I have never charged a chele.
[Mónica]: A chele, in other words, a peso. And then he signaled to the group of coordinators that were in front of him.
[Johnny]: I never charged the Rosarios a chele. Look at them here. These are the Rosarios. I never asked anyone for a dime to represent them.
[Mónica]: He said the same about the trips abroad. He had never charged the heirs anything. When I mentioned to him that there were heirs who didn’t believe that he had met with officials at Santander Bank and Credit Suisse, he told me:
[Johnny]: If that was a lie, then I don’t know what it is they’re looking for. It means then that I can’t explain who is going to pay them if it’s a lie.
[Mónica]: It’s the kind of argument he used frequently. In other words, the meetings at the banks had to be real because if they were a lie, the payment would be a lie too. And that, according to him, was impossible.
When I asked how much money there really was of Jacinto’s gold in the European banks, Portorreal wasn’t even able to give me a specific amount because he said the banks couldn’t determine the value of the inheritance.
[Johnny]: They gave me an example of what appeared in one coffer, or in one of those things there. That there was a piece of a golden crown, that must belong to some king, or one of the great monarchs, so the banks have a rule that any such article must be cataloged to see what country it belongs to because what they do is sell it at a public auction. They have a system for selling gold articles of clothing, of auctioning them, especially in the countries…
[Mónica]: And he continued like that, talking about kings, crowns, and bank systems in Europe.
But the more I asked him, he was incapable of giving us a number. Not even an estimate. When I asked why there were heirs who spoke specifically about billions of dollars, and even trillions, Portorreal told us that those figures were speculations made by the Rosario family.
[Johnny]: That’s not my concern. Because I have been very clear: we’re going to wait for what has to come. And we know they’re close, and we know it’s a lot of money. I have always told the Rosarios that.
[Mónica]: And he added that he had disclosed the amount to some.
[Johnny]: Some who are… of the… of the class of people… of… of… of the real, who are stern people. Because there are secrets in this. We’re talking to people who are serious about us. Any detail and any sum and everything, we do it ourselves.
[Mónica]: How many of the people in that room had talked about billions of dollars in those chats? It was impossible to know, but there’s no doubt that thousands of heirs let themselves be strung along by rumors. And all those rumors start with one person.
Portorreal continued to dodge our questions for the rest of the interview. When he had to talk about the messages that announced the arrival of the inheritance to BanReservas, again he wasn’t clear.
[Johnny]: When I saw it’s here, it must be in… in the State bank. Because the transfer, being that size and also in foreign currency, well, then it should arrive first in the… in.. in the State banks. That’s a supposition.
[Mónica]: But we had already heard him on the WhatsApp messages saying that the inheritance had made it to the country, and he mentioned BanReservas. And it didn’t sound like a supposition, on the contrary, he sounded very certain.
When I insisted, Portorreal moved on to another stage.
[Johnny]: No, I never mentioned… I have never mentioned a bank.
[Mónica]: Yes, you clearly did. I have it on tape. Where you talk about the payment platform.
[Johnny]: Yes, but I didn’t… didn’t say what bank it is. I don’t think. We don’t normally mention institutions.
[Mónica]: Denial. First, he denied having specifically mentioned BanReservas as the local bank that was going to receive the inheritance. Then he denied having talked about specific dates for collecting the money.
[Johnny]: I never set a date. I’d say that it’s close, that it’s there, that it’s whatever, it’s there. But I have never set a date or a week.
[Mónica]: And he also denied that the Attorney General had an open investigation against him and that he had been arrested at the airport.
[Johnny]: That was not true. That was never true. No, that isn’t… that… no, that was never true. I’ve never been arrested, nor has there ever been any complaint against me, nor has anyone ever forced me to go anywhere. That’s not true.
[Mónica]: But as we know, there are complaints against him. The one by the heirs that I mentioned in the first part of this episode. Portorreal also denied that Maribel was the one who got him involved in the inheritance case. According to Portorreal, there were other people, and I quote, “with more status” who had made him take on the Rosarios’ case.
There were other things he couldn’t deny. The proceedings that were brought against him by the Bar association, for example, which led to the suspension of his license for two years, and that he himself appealed. Portorreal told us that it was a conspiracy against him. That it was all organized by the president of the Bar Association.
[Johnny]: Someone who was paid off by our enemies. It’s not uncommon because the enemy isn’t going to send us cookies or flowers. There’s no problem there.
[Mónica]: Portorreal reacted similarly to the press release that BanReservas published in several media outlets saying that it didn’t have any accounts related to the inheritance. He downplayed it as much as he could.
[Johnny]: It turns out that they didn’t have a signature and it’s missing the… even the seal that must distinguish a bank that’s as… as prestigious as the one we have.
[Mónica]: I’ve seen the press release. It takes up one page of a newspaper. It’s clearly identified. It’s undeniable that it’s a message from BanReservas. I’ve also seen the banks’ responses when an heir has asked about the inheritance directly on Twitter.
The interview lasted more than three hours. It was a conversation full of questions that I had to ask again and again, in my attempt to get a clear answer about the Rosarios’ inheritance. One of the questions I asked was what would happen with the family when they arrive at the conclusion that the money is never going to come
And at that moment, he was emphatic.
[Johnny]: Our enemies have to be careful about what they do with the family. We’re already tired of the abuse and the tricks that the powerful class has put in place (applause). They’re the same people who have wanted to steal from the Rosarios for their whole lives (applause).
[Mónica]: There was applause. A standing ovation. The heirs who had stuck with Portorreal throughout the entire interview were moved by his message.
It was a very effective warning: if the money didn’t come, the Rosarios’ fury would be directed at “the enemies” of the family. He didn’t say exactly who they were, but he went beyond that. To Portorreal and his inner circle, anyone who denied the existence of the inheritance was an enemy.
That night I spoke with Luis again. We wanted to go over what we had talked about with Portorreal again. And when he answered, he told me that something very odd had happened to him.
[Luis]: After hanging up with you, uh, the exit… It took me a little bit to come because they literally closed me in a prayer circle.
[Heirs]: We thank you for having come to our nation. Be welcome in our republic, Dominican Republic.
[Luis]: That turned into a kind of rally to… to shout about how great Portorreal is and how important he is for the family.
[Mónica]: That was when the interview was already over. Luis was still recording, but he was packing up his equipment to leave the restaurant when the heirs surrounded him.
[Heirs]: Amen. Amen. Let’s pray. Amen! Say to the person next to you, “Amen.” Amen. Amen.
[Luis]: They took me by the hand. They hugged me. They wouldn’t let me leave (nervous laughter).
[Mónica]: One of the heirs took the floor to talk about Portorreal.
[Heir]: In the interview the attorney just gave, she asked, “What was.. what was the most important thing for the family”, or something like that. The doctor told her, “Love is the most important thing there is among the family.
[Heirs]: Glory to God. Amen
[Mónica]: And it continued like that for 10 minutes until Luis left the place.
Not much time passed after Luis left the restaurant when videos of the interview were already starting to go up. They were posted on YouTube and WhatsApp groups, with names like “Dr. Portorreal Press Conference.” In a matter of days, the video they uploaded to YouTube got almost 60 comments and, as of today, it’s been viewed more than 5,000 times.
But something surprised me: almost all of the YouTube comments were very negative toward Portorreal. They called him a “fox” and a “shameless person.” And many of the commenters had the last name Rosario.
And that’s because as time passed and seeing that the inheritance wasn’t coming, many of these Rosarios started to lose their patience and became convinced that Johnny Portorreal had scammed them. He had become an enemy of the family.
[Man]: I have no doubt about that. Attorney Portorreal has never worked for this family. He’s used the family for his own benefit. He was never there to help the family.
[Mónica]: This is one of the hundreds of protestors who from January of 2019 to February 2020 have gone out to protest. There have been more than 14 protests in different places in Santo Domingo.
[Protestors]: Rosario! Rosario!
[Mónica]: We were able to record one of these protests on January 15th, 2020, in front of the headquarters of BanReservas in Santo Domingo.
Some of the protesters are convinced that there was a scam and that Johnny Portorreal lied to them because he didn’t keep up his offer: that they were going to have the inheritance deposited in their bank accounts.
However, that message that Portorreal had repeated for years — that the money was already in the Dominican Republic but the government didn’t want to deliver it — did soak in and they took the claim to the inheritance into their own hands.
That’s why the protestors’ complaint was directed toward the incumbent president, Danilo Medina.
[Woman]: Mr. President of the Dominican Republic, give the order for the payment to go out. The Rosarios are sick of all this psychological abuse and humiliation before an indolent people.
[Mónica]: They also accuse the general administrator of BanReservas, Simón Lizardo, of having diverted the funds of the inheritance that arrived from the European banks.
[Woman]: Simón Lizardo, you… you know where the money is and who the money has been dispersed to. Pay it to the Rosarios!
[Mónica]: The protest we saw was full of people united by their fury.
It’s almost impossible to prove that something doesn’t exist, especially if the essence of the myth of this inheritance is that it’s hidden. But after so many years, I don’t know. You have to be a believer, someone who’s very devoted to the idea to ignore so many inconsistencies in Portorreal’s story, and think that, despite everything, Jacinto’s gold is going to come. Soon.
But part of me can also understand where this belief comes from. It’s about the hope of having a better life, a life that isn’t as hard, a comfortable life. A life like the one we all want. But there’s something else.
There’s so much wealth that has been taken from the Dominican Republic. Gold, natural resources. It’s wealth that has never been returned. That’s the essence of colonization, right?
The first gold bars that arrived in Madrid from the Americas came from what is now the Dominican Republic. In other words, even if the details of the inheritance don’t add up — and it’s undeniable that they don’t add up — in a historical sense, they’re not wrong.
Feeling like that wealth belongs to them is valid. It’s their land. And why not, if it’s been taken from them since the moment Columbus arrived in America.
[Daniel]: Two years later the case against Johnny Portorreal is still open. We consulted with Rosalba Ramos, the national attorney general of the Dominican Republic, who made it clear that in their investigation they have not found any evidence that any money has made it to the Dominican Republic for any person with the last name Rosario, nor that the Jacinto inheritance exists or existed
In late August, 20202, according to the information we received from the Attorney General’s Office, some leaders and coordinators of the family accused Johnny Portorreal of scamming them. Due to the coronavirus, the Attorney General’s Office decided to assign special hours so that all the Rosarios who felt that they had been affected by the search of the alleged million-dollar inheritance could make a claim. As of today, more than 250 people have filed a complaint. Thirty-eight claimed that they had been the victims of fraud, but the rest reported a breach of confidence, since they are sure that the inheritance exists. An investigation, and a judge in time, will determine the type of crime committed.
Regarding the land, Johnny Portorreal wasn’t able to prove that the Rosarios were the owners. Neither was he able to prove in court that Jacinto was the owner of that land and that the people who say that they’re his descendants have any kinship
October of 2020, was the scheduled date for the sanction imposed by the Bar Association against Johnny Portorreal to expire. When we consulted with the Bar’s president regarding the state of the sanction, he told us that Portorreal had appealed the sentence and the case was still pending, which means that during this time, Portorreal was still able to practice law.
Some of the Rosario family chats are still active as are the rumors that at any moment the inheritance will arrive. In the midst of the pandemic, the protests are ongoing and have even extended beyond the country. They have protested in front of the UN in New York, and on September 25th they appeared in front of the White House. Since some of the Rosarios are American citizens, they were asking for the support of the Trump administration to pressure the government of the Dominican Republic, to materialize the inheritance.
Mónica Cordero is an investigative journalist. She lives in New York and works with Univision’s Politics digital team. She co-produced this story with Luis Trelles. Luis lives in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and is an editor at Future Media.
We’d like to give a special thank you to Joe Nocera. We also want to thank Frank Baéz, Rita Indiana, Andrea Bavestrello, Juan Carlos González Díaz, and Alicia Ortega for their help with this story.
This story was edited by Camila Segura, Luis Fernando Vargas, Victoria Estrada, and me. Andrea López Cruzado and Desirée Yépez did the fact-checking. Sound design is by Andrés Azpiri, with music by Rémy Lozano.
The rest of the Radio Ambulante team includes Paola Alean, Lisette Arévalo, Jorge Caraballo, Aneris Casassus, Xochitl Fabián, Miranda Mazariegos, Patrick Moseley, Barbara Sawhill, David Trujillo, and Elsa Liliana Ulloa.
Fernanda Guzmán is our editorial intern.
Carolina Guerrero is the CEO.
Radio Ambulante is a podcast by Radio Ambulante Estudios, and it’s produced and mixed on the program Hindenburg PRO.
Radio Ambulante tells the stories of Latin America. I’m Daniel Alarcón. Thanks for listening.