U.S. citizens in Costa Rica lose fight against extradition

January 15, 2010

Nearly nine months after arriving at Buen Pastor women’s prison in San José, Christine Wenger-Bartee was taken back to the United States in handcuffs earlier this month.

According to the U.S. Embassy, she and her husband Linn Morris Bartee, both of northern California, were arrested and transferred on tax evasion charges.

For the better part of 2009, Christine fought off attempts to return her to her home country, while living on rice and beans in prison and bunking with women convicted of far more serious crimes than her own.

Her lawyer, Arcelio Hernández, successfully blocked three prior extradition attempts while Bartee lobbied for refugee status. Yet this last, successful attempt, on Jan. 9, was allegedly done without due notification and outside of normal business hours.

“It was basically kidnapping,” Hernández wrote in an e-mail to The Tico Times. “(The Osa court) made sure I had no chance to file a habeas corpus; and did not let my clients call me.”

The Bartee’s case is being prosecuted by the Eastern District of California Bankruptcy Court, where they are being charged with conspiring to evade the payment of federal income taxes, making false statements in a bankruptcy case and fraudulently concealing property in connection with a bankruptcy case, according to U.S. attorney Philip Ferrari. The maximum sentence the Bartees face is five years.

In May, Bartee, 51, was taken from her home in Tres Ríos de Coronado and separated from her husband and granddaughter. She was wanted on tax evasion charges, the result of a bankruptcy filing gone wrong, she said. During the process of filing for bankruptcy, she said she was “cheated and tricked.”

In her absence, she said, the U.S. government seized her ranch and drained her of her assets. She told The Tico Times in a September interview, “Any debts I left behind were more than paid off with what they took.”

While in Buen Pastor, Bartee said she survived in part because of the company of Ellen Stubenhaus, who was arrested weeks after Bartee on charges of conspiracy against the U.S. government. Stubenhaus, who came to Costa Rica in 2001, remains at Buen Pastor.

According to the U.S. embassy, the number of extradition requests made to Costa Rica varies from year to year, but average from 10 to15 annually.

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