From the February 2001 Idaho Observer:

Notes from a Florida Federal prison

The system is putting the wrong people in prison. Rather than destroying the good people it is incarcerating, there are several that we at The Idaho Observer have come to love, trust and respect as uncompromisingly good people who are simply shining under the most adverse of conditions. Jay Kimball is one. Sentenced to serve 13 years for a labeling violation that would have ordinarily cost someone three years had they actually been guilty of something other than healing sick people without the approval of the federal government, Kimball is reporting to us the stories of others who do not belong in prison. To Jay, Alan, Rex, Scott, Harley and the other people we know whose fate was to end up in prison: It may not seem fair for you to be put behind bars, but you are serving a higher purpose now. Do what comes natural and your rewards will come.

From Jay Kimball

Who are the real pirates?

Pedro Murillo and nine other Colombian nationals have been held at the Morgan Street Federal Jail in Tampa since late July on charges of drug smuggling. The evidence would indicate that Murillo and his companions are innocent of the charges. The evidence also indicates that the Coast Guard is guilty of piracy, kidnapping, and willful destruction of private property. If the drugs allegedly found are not properly inventoried nor being held as evidence, then the federal government may also be guilty of trafficking illegal drugs.

On July 10, 2000, Pedro Murillo was hired onto an 80-foot fishing boat out of Bueno Ventura, Colombia with nine other men. While they were out fishing for tuna and yellowfin 200 miles off the coast of Equador, their boat was boarded by the U.S. Coast Guard. The fishermen were unarmed and had no choice but to let the well-armed American military personnel come aboard and search their fishing vessel -- which looked like a toy boat tied up to the Coast Guard ship.

The Coast Guard, without a warrant and in international waters, conducted a search of the fishing boat and allegedly found drugs hidden behind a refrigeration unit. According to Murillo, the Coast Guard then arrested the entire crew and the captain, bound their feet and hands, threw them in the brig and used its cannons to sink the fishing boat and its catch of over one ton of fish.

According to Murillo and other South American abductees who have been brought thousands of miles from home to sit in a Florida federal prison for fishing, the U.S. Navy and the Coast Guard have been boarding and sinking fishing vessels they allege to be carrying drugs for about a year.

Murillo has a wife and four children whom he has not seen or spoken to in almost seven months. He has been a fisherman his entire adult life. He hires onto a boat, works for two weeks to a month, collects his pay and goes home to support his family. The other crew members have the same lifestyle and their families at home have probably been destroyed because they have not had an income since the U.S. government took their husbands/fathers prisoner.

If the boat those men were on was carrying drugs, neither Murillo or the other eight crew members would know. The captain, who was not the owner of the boat, may also not have known that his boat was carrying drugs.

After sinking the fishing boat, Murillo and his nine companions were bound in chains for the entire 15-day trip through the Panama Canal to Tampa.

It is odd that the Coast Guard, after arresting the crew and sinking their fishing boat, would travel through the Panama Canal, bypass Miami and every other U.S. Port and bring these innocent men all the way to Tampa where they are to remain incarcerated until they will someday stand trial.

After having discussions with many people within the judicial system in Tampa, the rumored reason that the Coast Guard and the Navy bring their prisoners all the way to Tampa, regardless of where on the high seas they are captured, is because there is a network of federal judges and prosecutors who are sympathetic to what the Coast Guard and the Navy are doing to innocent people all over the world. The federal judicial machinery in Tampa apparently ignores evidence that the federal government routinely commits criminal acts such as kidnapping, piracy and the lawless destruction of private property such as the sinking of fishing boats and their cargos.

After only a few hours of deliberation, a Tampa jury acquitted five Colombians who had similarly been imprisoned December 1, 2000. Another group of fishermen were found guilty earlier in the year although they were most likely guilty only of being in the wrong place when the U.S. Navy decided to “investigate.”

There is no evidence to suggest that the U.S. government has ever compensated innocent foreigners for the damage it has done to their lives while they are wrongfully imprisoned.

Murillo and his friends now await trial in the Morgan Street Federal Jail. They are imprisoned in a foreign country that speaks a different language and is thousands of miles from home. Their court-appointed attorney does not speak their language. Murillo says that he sees his “attorney” every 45 days.

“Confidential” informants

How the feds turn innocent people into criminals

Alex Celian, 24, came to the U.S. from Haiti when he was 16 years old to study English. He worked for his uncle and became an electrician. He also took a part time job with Powers Electrical Contractors to earn extra money that could be put aside in a fund for college.

In June, 2000, Celian and his uncle were arrested and thrown in Morgan Street Federal Jail in Tampa for allegedly selling drugs. His accuser, whom he has never been allowed to face, was a confidential informant (CI) for the federal government.

Hareshchandra Nandial came to American from India in 1984 with the intention of realizing the American dream of freedom and prosperity through hard work. He began as a farm laborer, became a convenience store clerk and was granted permanent resident alien status in 1988.

In 1990 Nandial opened and managed a convenience store in De Land, Florida. By the end of 1991, Nandial subleased the store from its previous owners. Within seven years of arriving in America, Nandial had worked himself into being a business owner who worked 14 hours per day, seven days per week.

One of the store's services was to cash checks for five percent of the value. In 1993 some people began cashing AFDC checks. Some of the checks were bad. In 1994 a federal investigation was opened over what turned out to be a scam. In 1996, “CIs” for the federal government fingered Nandial as the mastermind behind the scam.

In the Celian case, there is no evidence that a crime was committed -- just the testimony of an invisible accuser and the actions of a federal public defender who failed to provide Celian with adequate counsel: He would not call the CI to testify in court and be available for cross examination; would not depose witnesses who could attest to Celian's character; would not demand that the alleged bag of drugs be fingerprinted and did not file a motion to dismiss the case for lack of evidence.

Despite the myriad blunders of his attorney (which he tried unsuccessfully to fire) he hung the jury 8-4 in his favor.

The U.S. Prosecutor has stated he will refile charges. His court appointed attorney, James Garbett has reportedly refused to obtain a transcript of the first trial to prepare a defense for the appeal because it costs too much money.

Celian, denied bond, has sat in prison for six months awaiting his double-jeopardy proceeding. In mid-December he filed another motion to have Garbett removed from his case and was refused again by the judge who appointed him -- Judge Lazzara (the same judge who sentenced Kimball (The Idaho Observer, December, 2000). Celian has also filed a motion for a copy of the court transcript, which Judge Lazzara has not answered as of January 10, 2001. Celian's trial was set for January 25, 2001.

The only thing that has kept this case alive is the testimony of a federal CI and a legal system that is determined to manufacture a conviction in the absence of evidence.

In the Nandial case, there was no evidence and no motive, but he was convicted and sentenced July 25, 1997, to spend a year in state prison. He was released March 10, 1999 -- six months beyond his sentence. On the day of his release, he was picked up by agents from the Immigration and Naturalization Services. He was immediately taken to Hernando County Jail and is housed with the federal inmates there. He is getting nowhere and going nowhere. Just jail.

It turns out that the secret informants were the well-connected white-collar criminals who were running the scam and got caught and, to lessen their culpability, blamed the entire scam on a simple convenience store owner who cashed $11,000 of $70,000 in bad checks.

It is rumored that whomever jails federal inmates receives $150 per day to house them. In the absence of evidence, thousands of innocent people occupy beds in the nation's prisons. And this is called “justice.”

No court date has been set for Murillo and his hapless companions. They are simply at the mercy of a federal government that has already demonstrated its total disregard for our laws, international laws, due process and human rights.

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