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Monday, June 21, 2004

Prescription gets man jailed in Mexico

East Valley Tribune Online
Prescription gets man jailed in Mexico
By Kristina Davis, Tribune

Ray Lindell expected to be in Nogales, Mexico, for two hours. More than a month later, the 66-year-old is still there — in jail on felony drug trafficking charges. His crime: Overlooking a technicality in Mexican law.

He bought a three-month supply of Valium for his 73-year-old wife, Norma, with a valid American prescription.

But he failed to get it rewritten by a Mexican doctor.

"It’s been horrifying," said his stepdaughter-in-law, Connie Burkhart. "He was just trying to do what he thought was best for his wife, trying to take care of her."

Twelve Arizonans have been arrested in the border town since May as part of a crackdown targeting people who buy tranquilizers or painkillers without a legitimate prescription. The names of the other prisoners have not been released by authorities.

Lindell, who lives in east Phoenix, was nabbed by two plainclothes Nogales police officers May 19 after buying 270 Valium pills with a prescription in his wife’s name, family members said.

The brand-name Valium, which his wife uses for a nervous condition, was not covered by their retirement medical insurance, but can be purchased across the border at about a third of the U.S. cost, family members said. Lindell paid $200 for the pills in Mexico.

In a country operating under the Napoleonic Code where prisoners are guilty until proven innocent, Lindell’s case is complicated because Valium is known to be a highly abused drug, the prescription wasn’t in his name and the amount of pills was large, said Lindell’s stepson, Chris Burkhart, 50, of Phoenix.

A hearing to appeal a trial is scheduled for the beginning of August. If convicted, Lindell faces up to five years in prison, according to Mexican attorneys.

The governor of Sonora, Mexico, may be stepping in sooner, the family said. The governor told them a federal judge is set to review the case beginning today. But they don’t want to get their hopes up.

A U.S. Embassy Web site recommends that U.S. citizens not travel to Mexico for the sole purpose of buying prescription drugs and warns that Mexican public health laws concerning controlled medications are unclear and often enforced selectively.

Mexican authorities could not be reached over the weekend.

In the meantime, family members say Lindell is getting used to Mexican jail life, even though he can’t speak the same language as the 14 other men with whom he shares a cell block.

The Burkharts and other relatives try to visit Lindell once a week, bringing snacks, cash and books for him, plus cigarettes for bartering.

"I’ve heard stories about being in a prison before and those kinds of thoughts run through my mind," Lindell said in an interview from the warden’s office. "But no physical threats have happened to me or anything of that nature."

Lindell’s family has already paid $5,200 for his incarceration and defense, and another $4,000 will go to his Mexican attorneys if they get him out.

"All to save money on a prescription," Connie Burkhart said with a shake of her head.

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