Members of the Senate Special Committee on Aging are seeking help for a retired pastor from Maine who is imprisoned in Spain for smuggling drugs.
The New York Times reports the pastor was tricked into carrying contraband.
Recently, nine senators called on Secretary of State John Kerry or James Costos, the American ambassador to Spain, to raise the case of J. Bryon Martin directly with the Spanish government. Martin, 77, is serving six years in prison for smuggling drugs.
“We find it terribly unfair that an older American who by all indications is a victim and did not understand that he was being used to transport illegal drugs remains incarcerated abroad while the criminals who masterminded this scheme remain free,” the senators wrote in the letter.
The senators also called on the State Department to take similar steps on behalf of other American citizens being held by foreign governments.
Dozens of older Americans have been ensnared in drug-smuggling scams, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials.
Officials said 144 people have been intercepted for allegedly transporting drugs, including heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and Ecstasy. Fifteen people affiliated with a transnational criminal organization were also arrested. More than 30 elderly Americans are still incarcerated abroad in connection with the scam.
Drug traffickers entice their victims by promising them an inheritance or business opportunity, and then asking them to fly abroad, all expenses paid, to meet with “attorneys” or “business partners,” ICE officials said.
The victims are asked to take seemingly harmless items with them for their business contacts. The items, which contain drugs, have included chocolates, picture frames, tea, markers, canned goods, shampoo bottles, soap and wooden hangers, ICE said in a news release. The victims were recruited through social media, cyber begging and telemarketing fraud.