28 May 2007

U.S. women in Jalisco fight for justice

Jailed U.S. citizen claims innocence

By David Agren/The Herald Mexico
El Universal
Lunes 28 de mayo de 2007

GUADALAJARA - Rebecca Roth led the good life for eight years in Puerto Vallarta, where she ran a boutique. Nowadays though, she lives in a six-bunk cell in Jalisco´s Puente Grande Prison with a dozen other women as she battles money-laundering charges stemming from a brief sojourn working for a convicted scam artist.

Despite her tough surroundings, the former financial consultant from Lake Oswego, Oregon, produces whimsical paintings that draw inspiration from a far more cheerful place, during her advanced art classes. Her sister Barbara Roth has framed several and displays them in her Lake Chapala-area home - but a painting of two sisters called "Dos Hermanas" is most prominent. And appropriately so, especially considering the women´s struggles.

For the past 15 months, Rebecca and Barbara have waged a lonely fight in a legal system that seemingly dispenses little justice. Although gaining recent support from the local expatriate community and some Mexican friends, Rebecca still faces an uncertain future as her pleas of innocence have fallen on deaf ears. If convicted, she could face 20 years in prison.

"How do you prove your innocence in this country?" Barbara asked rhetorically.

Rebecca Roth´s misadventure started in late 2000 after meeting Alyn Waage, a Canadian who ran an Internet investing scheme called Tri-West. He hired Rebecca as a personal assistant and paid her US$4,000 per month. In April 2001, he was arrested in Puerto Vallarta. While he was in a Mexican jail, US$50,000 was deposited into Roth´s Mexican bank account so she could pay the domestic staff and expenses at his eight luxurious Puerto Vallarta properties. The proposed transaction unsettled Rebecca, but a Puerto Vallarta lawyer said everything was legal. The advice proved erroneous.

Waage later fled to Costa Rica, but was eventually extradited to the United States, where he was convicted of running a US$60 million Ponzi scheme. He is serving a 10-year sentence in a North Carolina prison.

Rebecca thought little of her intersection with Waage´s life - it had lasted slightly less than four months - and carried on with her business, which is still being operated by three Mexican employees. In 2005, sister Barbara also moved to Mexico, building a home on Lake Chapala´s north shore. Their lives here seemed idyllic, but everything changed quickly.

At 5:30 p.m. on Feb. 13 as Rebecca was closing up her business, she was apprehended and driven overnight to Puente Grande. She was told she would be back in Puerto Vallarta the next day. It´s already been 15 months.

Two other former Waage employees were also apprehended: Brenda Martin, a Canadian woman that also worked as chef, but had been fired, and Waage´s former Mexican bodyguard. The bodyguard, a former Puerto Vallarta police official, was released after five days due to a lack of evidence, according to a local newspaper.

The key evidence against Roth is the bank deposit, even though she paid Waage´s staff with the funds and kept receipts. Waage recently signed a deposition saying Rebecca was not involved in his schemes. The U.S. prosecutors from the Waage case told Rebecca´s U.S. lawyer that they had no interest in her.

None of that has so far satisfied the Mexican prosecutors.

"In Mexico, the crime she´s charged with is worse than murder," sister Barbara said.

Although in a fight for her life, proving Roth´s innocence and preparing a defense has been difficult.

Upon arriving at Puente Grande, Rebecca was told to sign a document saying incorrectly that she was fluent in Spanish. Her public defender was also of little use. He often went missing in action.

After disappearing for a month, he told Rebecca she had just ten days to submit her evidence and witness list. She reportedly asked, "Don´t they care about justice?" The defender reportedly responded, "Of course not!"

Finding a better lawyer was also trying. All of the potential attorneys either demanded large up-front payments or would back off after viewing the court documents. One hotshot lawyer pitched himself as the "Johnny Cochran of Mexico" and demanded US$100,000 plus expenses. The women declined.

"We´re no O.J. Simpson and we don´t have that kind of money," Barbara said.

The women eventually settled on an erstwhile law student, but still needed to pay his professor approximately 200,000 pesos.

Enlisting help from U.S. officials has also been difficult. Barbara turned to the U.S. Consulate in Guadalajara, but found little help. She wrote her senator and still is waiting for a response. A friend recommended writing a Florida senator after reading about how he helped a constituent jailed in Vietnam.

The desperation of the situation hit both women hard. Rebecca´s asthma worsened and was aggravated by the summer rainy season and sleeping on the floor. She spent three months in the prison infirmary.

Barbara´s health also declined. After months of intense stress she was diagnosed with diabetes.

"This is what´s made me ill: none of this makes any sense," she said.


Anonymous said...

It sounds like no one here has a brain---let this woman go. It would be nice if the american embassy in Puerto Vallarta would help---but my experience with them is they are not helpful---won't even talk to you on the phone---the american embassy woman would rather attend parades and parties than help americans in trouble.

Shreya said...

I'm wondering if you have considered doing a follow-up on Rebecca Roths's plight? It will soon be four years since her incarceration.