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
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.
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; email@example.com
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