In another case, a non-US woman from Santo Domingo who had never lived in the US except for short vacation trips owned a Florida condominium, plus bank accounts and securities on deposit in the US.
The value was “only” half a million dollars, but this was the widow’s entire life-savings. Because another person (a complete stranger) with her relatively common surname was involved in a tax dispute with the US, all of her personal assets were seized (once again without notice or court hearing) to satisfy a US claim against this stranger. Upon receiving the standard form letter, she protested the seizure by her own letter to the Treasury, but was told once again by form letter, that she had only a very short time to hire a lawyer in the US. Preliminary inquiries indicated she’d then have to appear personally at a trial in a US District Court in Miami, Florida to prove beyond a shadow of doubt that she had no connection with the accused offender.
It is always difficult or impossible to prove a negative, but the widow Garcia decided she had no alternative but to go to Florida, hire an American lawyer and try to recover her money and apartment. When she explained her need for a visa (to make her claim) for travel to the US, permission to visit the US for this purpose was denied. This happened at the US Consulate in her own country where she had applied for the usual six months visa.
The horror story got worse from that point onwards. She entered the US illegally via Puerto Rico where she made the standard arrangements favored by Dominicans, by acquiring local (Puerto Rican) driver’s license as her US identification. She then flew to Miami and spent her last assets on a retainer for an expensive Florida lawyer. He did nothing. Without money to make her condo and mortgage payments, her property went into foreclosure and was irrevocably lost. After three months of running up hotel bills and waiting for the attorney to file a legal action within the required period, she complained. Within days (suspecting that her own lawyer had turned her in), she was arrested and quickly sentenced to a year and a day in prison for carrying fraudulently obtained identification papers and illegal entry into the US. The date for filing a claim now having passed, her assets were irrevocably lost.
Does it get worse still? You bet! While in jail, just before her release date, she was further charged with being part of a drug importing conspiracy with the stranger (we’ll call him “Garcia”) she had never met nor heard of. She was told that her ‘drug tainted Garcia assets* were gone forever. Unless she waived all further claims against the US, she was told by the Department of Justice prosecutor that she would be given a forty year sentence for drug trafficking. Now without any funds at all, she was advised by her free public defender lawyer to plead guilty to drug trafficking. Mrs Garcia initially refused, but the deal eventually made was this. If she would make a plea bargain for a ten year suspended sentence, at the end of her year in prison, she could accept deportation to her home country. Anxious to get back home, and with a best-case scenario of being held in a very unpleasant county jail for several months while her trial was pending, she decided to go for the “deal” and get sent back home at US government expense. The downside was a drug conviction, but she felt that this would not be a problem back in the Dominican Republic. Her plan was to try and live a quiet life with her daughter who was willing to take her in.
Ultimately, she was deported to her home country as agreed in the plea bargain. Upon arrival, she didn’t expect what happened next. Instead of being allowed to stay at the home of her daughter as planned, as a convicted and admitted drug-dealer, she was promptly jailed upon arrival back in the Dominican Republic. There was no need for a trial there because under treaty arrangements, deported and convicted drug dealers serve their US imposed sentences in the Dominican Republic. So much for trusting the US Department of Justice and her lawyer who failed to mention this little detail. She spent the following two years in a very unpleasant jail in her own country. There she remains with eight years to go. The Santo Domingo government receives grant money from the US to keep her and several hundred others like her incarcerated. In a letter to me, the widow Garcia stated that “I never had the slightest involvement in drug dealing, nor any remote interest in illegal drugs of any kind. There was no evidence of any kind, nor any testimony against me. I never had a trial for anything except the illegal entry charge. I wouldn’t have made any illegal entry if they hadn’t confiscated my money and given me only a few months to make a claim in person. The only connection I needed to get into all this trouble is that I have the same name, Garcia, as a shadowy figure who may or may not be involved in this drug business.
Nobody seems to know anything about him except that he had the same last name. The government tried to make him out to be my husband or son, but I have no son, and my husband died twenty years ago – long before the drug thing ever became a big deal. As to the other Garcia: his money was also confiscated, but he never made any claim. This name is the most common name in any Spanish speaking country. I am sure that everyone involved in my case knows that there is no connection between me and this other Garcia, but it doesn’t matter to them. It is not like in the movies where a prosecutor admits a mistake to free an innocent person. The contrary is true. The more wrong they are, the more vigorously they defend the position that the accused was “properly sentenced after being found guilty as charged.”
The widow continued: “This whole story is like a bad dream, but I assure you it is real. I have written letters to Amnesty International and have tried everything to clear myself, and get free but the answer is always, ‘You probably wouldn’t have pleaded guilty if you hadn’t been involved in something illegal.’ I suppose because I am not being tortured and am not a political figure, no one except my family knows or cares about me. Truth is, had I not pleaded guilty, the US could and would have framed me for some new crime anyway. They can always get other inmates to lie about something in return for money or more likely, a sentence reduction. To accuse the US government of such tactics may sound far-fetched to someone who has never been in their meat grinder, but I assure you that justice in the US courts or prison system is not something one can count on. There is a bureaucratic need to convict people and to keep them incarcerated for long periods. Innocence or guilt doesn’t seem to matter much.
In my US Federal prison, I saw examples and heard too many stories of bogus secondary charges being brought at the expiration of the first prison term. I had a real fear of spending my entire life in a foreign jail. Nobody really cares about you and my relatives had a very tough time getting dispensation for a three day visa to visit me (in prison, during my trial) from Santo Domingo. The expense of such trips is something they can’t really afford. 1 figured 1 would be in a better situation in my home country where people knew I was not a criminal. I just wanted to go home and live a quiet life. But this was not to be.
The US has so much money to fight their drug war, they convict many innocent people like me who then become statistics representing their ‘success’ in interdicting this traffic. Then with their wealth and immense influence abroad, they can continue to make life miserable for people like me. I feel that US pressure alone is keeping me in jail here. My money was legally earned and saved as a result of my deceased husband’s auto-parts business. The original investments in the US were made by him because we wanted a safe place to keep our savings due to dangers from an often arbitrary government here at home in Santo Domingo. We were also informed in writing by the local US Embassy that we would always be given a visa to spend up to six months a year in our vacation home in Florida. Had I suspected that what happened to me was a possibility, I wouldn’t have touched any investment in the US with a barge pole. Now all my retirement savings money is lost and I am still in jail with little hope of getting out before I die. I am not saying that everyone in jail is an innocent angel, but I have met quite a few people in the States who, like me, do not belong in jails. To be in this situation is not a pleasant ending for a 59-year-old widow and grandmother. I might have killed myself, but regular family visits and my Christian faith and prayer has sustained me.”
Xenophobic Big Brother. It is well known that most countries, while welcoming foreign investors, do not want foreigners to stay around too long nor to own local property. The US was always different, passing out unlimited visit visas and encouraging foreign investors to buy land, farms, real estate and local businesses. Legal protections against seizures and confiscations were given to foreigners on the same basis as if they were locals. Special laws like the Edge Act in banking, even gave foreigners an edge, as it were. Foreigners got bank secrecy denied to locals, and for many years there was no reporting on foreign accounts nor withholding of taxes on interest due foreigners. The drug war and other modem concerns, gave the government excuses to withdraw all former asset protection from both locals and foreigners. New treaties mandate that the US reports interest paid to foreigners to their own governments. Assets of local citizens or foreigners can be frozen, sold or seized quite easily.
To confiscate US property, some snot-nosed teenager from an obscure agency merely has to scribble that he suspects a boat, plane or car; a house or bank account is “possibly involved in” environmental offenses, organized crime, tax fraud, insider trading, drug dealing, money laundering, or a long list of offenses. The property is then taken out of the control of the owner. The burden then shifts to the owner to prove he is clean as the driven snow. The record of recoveries in such cases is dismal, from the point of view of the foreign investor. Often, a civil court appearance by an accused, is used as an opportunity to gather evidence or file criminal charges. As a result, the US is now a treacherous place to do business, to invest, or even to visit as a tourist. Xenophobia is such that the ownership of local property or businesses is made untenable by the selective enforcement of measures against foreigners. Japan bashing is the current fad. Japanese and Asian investors face many restrictions in the form of laws enforced against them, but not others. Local politicians score points by railing against foreigners. In most cases, such problems are not simply bribe demands as they are in say, third world countries. They are institutionalized Xenophobia that can only be cured by the foreigner being “punished,” Attempts to buy off the tormentors in the US may only cause more problems.
We know from personal experience that crime and corruption exist everywhere. In places like Mexico, Brazil and the Philippines one faces a real danger of armed robbery and even greater danger of false accusations by bribe-seeking corrupt police or customs officials. However, up until recently the only major governments that were essentially legalized thug rule were the Communists. There, restrictions on freedom of personal travel and economic activities were enforced for their own sake. With the disintegration of the Communists, the last remaining superpower has in many ways, become the successor in terms of making life miserable for its people without any discernible or logical reason. Far too many activities are banned, and far too many people are jailed just for the sake of expanding bureaucratic power. Indeed, the closest thing to the fictional Big Brother government portrayed in the excellent fiction of George Orwell 1984, is now that of the United States.