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Imprisoned American Gets Help Five Years After Conviction, Lawmaker Trying To Get Him Out

Thu., Aug. 14, 1997, midnight

One of the worst fears of Americans who travel abroad has become reality for David Carmos.

Five years ago, he was arrested in Mexico City’s international airport, charged with drug trafficking and convicted in a trial at which he was not present.

He was immersed in a justice system he did not know, a language he did not understand - and assigned an attorney he did not like. His supporters say that when he tried to get the U.S. Embassy to help, he was largely ignored.

Now, a U.S. representative is fighting for his freedom.

U.S. Rep. J. Joseph Moakley, D-Mass., has requested a meeting with U.S. State Department officials to discuss Carmos’ case, Karin Walser, a spokesperson for the congressman, said Wednesday from Washington.

Carmos, 55, was arrested in October 1992 at the Mexico City international airport on charges of illegally transporting a powder that Mexican authorities said could be used to make the designer drug Ecstasy. Carmos, who does not speak Spanish, was changing planes in Mexico City on his way home to California from Brazil, where he had attended a religious gathering.

Mexican authorities say they found the powder in his carry-on luggage. Carmos said he did not know where it came from.

Despite vigorous protests of innocence, Carmos was convicted in 1993. He has served half of his 10-year sentence in a Mexico City prison.

Carmos and his supporters were enraged when they recently obtained an internal U.S. Embassy memorandum that they say shows authorities had serious questions about the case a year after his conviction but failed to do anything.

In the 1994 memo, a U.S. Embassy official wrote that U.S. narcotics specialists concluded the drug ingredient in question existed only as a liquid, not a powder, and was legal in Mexico.

U.S. Consul General Kathleen J. Mullen wrote: “It does seem extremely odd that Carmos, who was detained and charged on the basis of a suspicious powder, would have been charged with possession of a substance that only exists in liquid form.”

U.S. Ambassador James Jones wrote to Rep. Moakley last year, saying that although the case “may not have met the highest standards of U.S. justice, it appears to have satisfied the Mexican standards of criminal procedure.”

U.S. Embassy officials refused to comment Wednesday and referred all calls to State Department spokesman Brian Penn, who did not immediately return a call placed by The Associated Press.

A spokesman at the Mexican attorney general’s office said he had no information.

Carmos’ case is one of the most extreme stories of Americans claiming to be wrongfully jailed in Mexico each year.

In another case, Steve House, an employee of Gas Services Inc., was arrested July 30 during a two-hour layover in Mexico City’s airport after customs agents said they found a small-caliber handgun in his luggage.

House has denied the gun was his, and Gas Service has hired a Mexican attorney and is taking the case to U.S. officials in Washington.

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