Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A Situation To Be Aware Of

This is an article written about the ex-wife of our next door neighbor.
It’s an unfortunate, sad and unhappy situation that I’m sure none of
us would want to find ourselves in. It’s interesting the difference between how the Canadians dealt with their citizen in the same situation compared to how our government has dealt with ours. I felt like people all over this country should be aware of incidents such as these.

Margie Boule writes for The Oregonian.
Rebecca Roth's incarceration in Mexico
An ordinary Oregonian in paradise falls into the deep hole they call the Mexican justice system
Sunday, October 12, 2008
The Oregonian

You're an American citizen, one of many Americans living in Mexico. You moved from Lake Oswego to Puerto Vallarta with your teenage sons in 1999 because your bad asthma goes away in Mexico.
Then one day in 2006, Mexican authorities arrive and arrest you. They put you in the back of a pickup and drive you overnight to a maximum-security prison, where you're dumped in a crowded room with murderers and the mentally ill. There's no translator; no one tells you why you've been taken.

You assume the U.S. government, the most powerful government in the world, will come to your aid. Help ensure your rights are protected under international treaties and Mexican law.

You're wrong.

Ask Rebecca Roth. The former Oregonian has been sitting in a Guadalajara prison for 21/2 years for a crime nobody can prove she committed and that the real criminal has sworn she had nothing to do with. Still, she was convicted after a ludicrous hearing and sentenced to nine years; the prosecutor is appealing, asking she be kept in prison for 23 years, the maximum sentence.
Her crime? For three months in 2001, Rebecca worked for a wealthy Canadian in Puerto Vallarta, making his travel arrangements and standing in line to pay utility bills for the properties he owned. (In Mexico you can't pay by check; someone must pay in cash in person.)
It turned out the Canadian man, Alyn Waage, was one of the largest Internet scam artists in history. He, associates and family members stole more than $60 million from investors all over the world. The U.S. convicted him in 2005, and he is in prison in North Carolina.

A year after Waage's U.S. conviction, Rebecca and Alyn Waage's cook, a Canadian woman, were arrested by the Mexican police, charged with organized crime and money laundering.

Each had received money when Alyn was first arrested, in Mexico, to continue their work for him. Rebecca consulted with Alyn's attorney -- who had also been attorney for Mexican president Vicente Fox -- and she remembers being told it was not illegal to work for someone in prison. Funds were transferred to her bank account, and she paid his utility bills. She has receipts and bank records to prove she received no more than utility costs and her salary.
She assumed those receipts, which prove her innocence, would lead to a not-guilty verdict in April, when her case finally came before a judge.

She didn't stand a chance.

Canada had certainly lived up to its national anthem, standing on guard for its own citizen. The Canadian cook was visited in prison by Canada's prime minister; politicians and diplomats appealed to Mexico; the Canadian press splashed her case coast to coast.

Rebecca's sister, Barbara Roth, received no help from the U.S. State Department, the consulate in Guadalajara or elected representatives from Oregon. No one made appeals to Mexico. No politicians visited Rebecca in prison.

There's no question her international rights were being ignored; her case should have been thrown out simply because of the violations. She was placed in prison with convicted criminals. Mexican guarantees of due process were violated. Interpreters were not provided. She was not told she was a suspect when she was interrogated. She was denied legal counsel. She was not given the time or the right to prepare an adequate defense.

In the end, Rebecca had to make her own charts and write her own defense, sitting in prison. Months after she was convicted, she was told the judge had dated his written verdict before the hearing was even held.

Since I last wrote about Rebecca several months ago, the Canadian cook has been returned to Canada and released. She's writing a book about her experience.

Rebecca still sits in the Mexican prison, waiting for her appeal to be heard.

She may not have the power of her government, or the sympathy of her entire country, but she's not alone.

Her ex-husband, David Dickinson, has now joined her fight.

"Quite honestly, when this started, I figured it would end with a false-arrest-type thing," David says from his home in Seattle.

He and the rest of the family were told not to make a fuss because it might anger Mexican authorities.

David is utterly certain Rebecca committed no crime. In the years they were married and in the years of friendship since their divorce, he's admired her strong ethics. "It would be completely out of character for her to go to Mexico and become a criminal," he says.

Rebecca owned a boutique and ceramics business in Puerto Vallarta. She took Alyn Waage's part-time job to tide her over in the tourist off-season, David says.

David was outraged when Rebecca was convicted. "I started making phone calls to senators, sending e-mails," contacting the national press. "It had no effect. I was absolutely amazed."

After I wrote about Rebecca's situation in The Oregonian, I received several e-mails from U.S. citizens who've worked abroad. They are not willing to have their names published but said the U.S. is known not to protect its citizens in situations like this. "If anyone had a problem, we headed straight for the Canadian consulate," one wrote.

Recently, David's hopes were raised when NBC appeared to be interested in doing an hourlong program about Alyn Waage's crimes and the injustice Rebecca has faced. Alyn has made sworn statements to U.S. judges insisting Rebecca knew nothing about his financial business.

But the U.S. Bureau of Prisons refused the network's request to interview Alyn. The network told David there will be no story without the interview.

It seems as if every time Rebecca is given a faint hope of assistance, her hope is broken. David hired a Mexican attorney who met with the Mexican appeals court judge, to explain why her conviction should be overturned. Rebecca's sister, Barbara, also met with the judge, to make a personal appeal.

"We were told it was a good judge, an impartial judge," David says. The Mexican attorney and Barbara told David the meetings had gone well.

Then, just a few days ago, Rebecca's case was transferred to another state, another appeals judge.

"This is shocking news and it has us all spinning," David says. "It's like starting all over again."

Still, they won't give up.

Rebecca could accept the guilty verdict, be transferred to the U.S. and finish her sentence in U.S. prisons. But the crimes Mexico convicted her of carry much higher sentences in the U.S. She could be released, or she could be imprisoned far longer than Alyn Waage, the man who stole $60 million.

Rebecca did not participate in or benefit from the scam, say all involved. She has little money. She does not want to live the rest of her life as a convicted felon. Before this, she'd never even been arrested.

So she persists in her appeal in Mexico, hoping others will join her fight. To that end, David Dickinson has started an informative blog (rebeccarothprisonerinparadise.blogspot.com).
Among other fascinating nuggets, he quotes a letter he received from Waage that claimed Rebecca is in prison because she's being held hostage by a Mexican prosecutor who was promised a half-million-dollar bribe by Waage; Waage skipped bail and never paid up.

There's also a quote from a Canadian government official, saying Rebecca may have been arrested so former President Fox could brag he'd imprisoned a "leader" in the Waage scandal.
Rebecca's family believes if she'd had money to pay a bribe early on, she'd never have been imprisoned. But she had no money. She was just an ordinary Oregonian in paradise, until she fell into the deep hole they call the Mexican justice system.

"She is very despondent," David Dickinson says, "feeling very ignored and unrepresented by her country. She was in tears when we last spoke."

But she's not suffering in silence anymore.

In an open letter Rebecca wrote recently, she says she's learned "how dangerous Mexico is for Americans desiring to retire here, how powerless foreigners are here. . . . It is not possible to get a fair trial.

"I don't belong in jail. I never did. My family is suffering, as well. I decided to write this because of a conversation with my youngest son. He told me, 'We have no hope. The system is corrupt and the U.S. doesn't care. There's no one to turn to.'

"I hope he's wrong."

Margie Boule: 503-221-8450; marboule@aol.com

11 comments:

Aleta said...

I hope you get a lot of people reading your blog. This makes me SO angry at our American government. I love America, but I DETEST the politicians with a passion. They are an embarrassment to our culture, to the very meaning of being American.

My prayers go with Rebecca and her family.

robin andrea said...

That is quite a frightening story. My brother-in-law has been living in Mexico for five years. I started thinking lately that it must be safe. I guess not. Truly scary. (I just realized how this story sounds so much like what the prisoners in Guantanomo must be experiencing.)

Margie's Musings said...

What a tragedy! Isn't there anything that can be done?

Sylvia K said...

Margie, It seems the only thing anyone can do is get the story out there, call attention to it and that's why I told David that I would put it on my blog with the hopes of making more people aware of the problem. But everyone has problems of their own these days and the people that could help -- politicians, have already turned a deaf ear.

Rain said...

I had heard about this awhile back in the Oregonian and it seems hard to believe but there are a lot of Americans who have ended up in Mexican jails with no recourse. Some had it happen simply by buying prescription drugs and not having the proper papers because of not understanding what the rules were. These weren't controlled substances but just drugs that were cheaper.

Nogales, Sonora, a town I used to like to visit on the border has now been warned as a travel risk for Americans. I felt that my last trip down there a few years ago. When you go into another country on vacation, you better be sure you understand your rights as once you cross the border, you can't count on the government here to do anything for you. They might or might not. Not very secure feeling.

Lilly's Life said...

Oh my that was a wonderful post.

How terribly sad and frustrating for this woman and her family. I also wonder how many time sthis type of thing occurs. Having lived overseas you are more suseptible if things go wrong. Oh I just cannot imagine. I wonder if there is anything we bloggers could do - write letters or bring attention to it or something.

I cannot imagine being locked up when you ar completely innocent. How would she or her family ever recover? Thanks for ths post. I certainly was not aware of this.

June Saville said...

Scarey Sylvia. It could have been any of us ...
Well done you!

Kate said...

Oh God what a situation to be in Sylvia, that's terrible - poor woman ... I had no idea how an 'American' citizen could be treated as though they were nothing. This is the kind of thing you expect to happen to a member of a third world country- not USA... Why aren't folk in her home state up in arms (nor literally if you know what I mean). They sould Mount a campaign to publicise the crap this woman has gone through and show up the twit polititians for what they are. Espressly exposing them - for their inaction, surely the embarrassment caused would make them shift their stumps to get justice for this poor woman. Fancy folk knowing to go to the Canadians to get help - that is totally amazing that the citizens of the 'BIG US of A' can accept that their representatives
work like this... It is a totally abhorrent situation. Rachel might be only one person - but surely the sh*t stirring representatives can get their act in order to save this woman.

It seems inadequate to say this -but my prayers also go to her and her family, Kate x.

patsy said...

When you live out side our country you face danger and if you get in trouble you are on you own. Our goverment doesn't care about this woman.

Darlene said...

What an incredibly sad story. I think one of the hardest parts of growing old is having to accept the fact that justice does not triumph. There are hundreds of stories like this and it's so depressing to know how little those in power care.

bobbie said...

It is frightening and demoralizing to learn how little the U.S.government cares for its citizens abroad. I'm sure politics has everything to do with it. The Powers That Be don't want to rock their boat for whatever reasons. If it was politically expedient, something would be done. Surely public pressure on U.S.authorities would move them.