Today I filed a legal response to the Nicaraguan prosecutor's latest attempt to smear my name, lock me up in a sub-human prison, and leave me to die for crimes I did not commit. The two-year crusade against me seemingly ended last month when an appeals court set me free, and I came home to the United States. Soon, though, I found out that the prosecutor has refused to let me go. The prosecutor is abusing his authority in an attempt to take me from Seattle and put me back in prison in Nicaragua. Along with my formal response, I will be filing a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which will join the United Nations and others in the international community in reviewing Nicaragua's actions in my case.
It all started in September of 2002, when I went to Nicaragua as a Peace Corps volunteer. To say I was excited for the adventure would be an understatement. The work I would be doing in agriculture and economic sustainability was a unique chance to travel and help others less fortunate than myself. I spent my time in the mountains working with local farmers and their families to help educate them on the latest technology and techniques to help them grow their businesses. It was then that I fell in love with Nicaragua -- the natural beauty, the culture, and, more than anything, the people. A few months after my Peace Corps service ended, I drove back to Nicaragua on my own to try my hand at real estate development. I married a Nicaraguan beauty, and together had a son. Our family was content and I loved living in Nicaragua. After several years of hard work, I was lucky enough to become one of the most successful real estate brokers along the Pacific Coast of Nicaragua. My established reputation allowed me to partner with several other like-minded individuals to start larger sustainable, organic farm projects with an emphasis on community development. I was able to spend quality time with my family and felt I had really integrated with the local community, all the while enjoying the benefits of living in tropical paradise.
On Nov. 11, 2010, my life changed radically. I will never forget the day when my office in front of the beach was stormed by masked men armed with assault rifles. Even though the Nicaragua police ransacked my office and home -- confiscating whatever they desired -- they never told me what they were looking for, why I was being detained, or allowed me to communicate with my family or attorney. From that day forward my life became a living nightmare played in slow motion as in accordance with Nicaraguan "mañana" attitude.
Eventually, I was charged with three very serious crimes, all of which I am completely innocent. Every step of the way, since the moment the police entered my office, my civil, constitutional, and human rights have been violated. Physical and verbal abuse; lack of due process; lack of legal, judicial, and evidentiary foundations; denial of food and water for days at a time; denial of medical treatment; a biased judge who was not even a legal judge -- it all amounted to my wrongful imprisonment for 22 months. Twenty-two months during which I was separated from my wife and son. Twenty-two months in which my family struggled and exhausted every resource possible fighting for my freedom. Twenty-two months of pure suffering.
And even now, after I have been released from prison and deported from Nicaragua, the suffering continues. The Nicaraguan prosecution continues to defy all logic and has appealed my release. They are insisting that I am guilty of crimes I did not commit even though they do not have one piece of evidence against me. For the charge of drug trafficking, there is not even one gram of drugs in the entire case. For the charge of money laundering, the police expert financial witness testified on the stand that there were absolutely no money transactions between myself or my company and the other ten accused in the case. He also testified that of the 295 copies of deeds that were found in my real estate office, none were in my name, my company's name, nor in the names of the other 10 accused in the case. And for the charge of organized crime, not one material witness, video, photo, or phone call was presented to say that I had anything to do with the others accused.
Sadly, my experience isn't unique. There are thousands of Americans jailed abroad, the majority are in Latin America. Others such as Eric Volz, Alan Gross, and Jacob Ostreicher have also faced similar issues. The need for legal reform and protections for people like me has never been greater. The United Nations and the U.S. government need to do more to pressure the Nicaraguan government and other Latin American governments to reform their judicial process.
Unfortunately, change from within is not working. The U.S. Ambassador to Nicaragua can also play a pivotal in highlighting these atrocities. It is only with pressure from outside that justice will be upheld within. There needs to be greater awareness of cases so that other innocent people like me do not suffer for 22 months, or longer, and our innocent families are not the ones bearing the brunt.