Christopher Tappin, extradition’s forgotten victim who is awaiting US trial, talks of his strange life in Texas

October 22, 2012

The Telegraph on October 21, 2012 released the following:

“By Philip Sherwell

As he strolled off the fairway with his scorecard at the 18th hole, the white-haired man in blue polo shirt and khaki shorts could have been just another relaxed late-afternoon golfer.

But a closer look revealed two pieces of extra “kit” not needed by his playing partners at the country club in the affluent leafy suburbia north of Houston.

Inside the white sock on his left foot was the bulge of an ankle bracelet, while a satellite GPS tracking device blinked in a holster on his belt.

For this was Christopher Tappin, the retired British businessman, former president of the Kent Golf Union and epitome of Home Counties respectability who will go on trial in two weeks [NOV 5] in a Texas courtroom charged with conspiring to supply batteries for Iranian missiles.

His case made headlines as he fought extradition from Britain for five years, under the lopsided treaty passed by the Labour government after the Sept 2001 terror attacks.

This requires evidence of “probable cause” before an American is extradited to Britain, a far higher standard of proof than the “reasonable suspicion” that suffices to send a Briton to trial in the US.

Mr Tappin, 65, who has consistently denied the charges, eventually lost that battle in February and was handed over to the US authorities. The next two months were spent in the hellish conditions of a federal prison in New Mexico, much of the time in solitary confinement.

In April, he was released under strict bail conditions – including wearing the ankle bracelet and GPS tracker to ensure that he does not leave the three Texas counties where he is allowed out before his overnight curfew.

And last week, he spoke for the first time about his life since then in a wide-ranging interview with The Sunday Telegraph.

As he finished the 18 holes in a brisk round of 75, the 65-year-old grandfather looked as calm as the new friends he has made among the businessmen and lawyers at the club.

There was no indication of the inner turmoil that he must feel as he prepares to face an agonising dilemma next month in a federal courtroom in El Paso.

If he pleads not guilty and loses in a country with one of the world’s highest conviction rates, then he could be jailed for up to 35 years in the US – effectively a life sentence away from his sick wife, two children and grandson.

But in a common US legal move, prosecutors are expected to offer him a plea bargain that would give him a much shorter prison term and to probably repatriation to a British jail – provided he admits at least some of the charges.

Mr Tappin, from Orpington, owned a freight shipping company and is accused of trying to buy 50 oxide batteries to power Iranian Hawk missiles after a colleague made contact with a front company set up by the Department of Homeland Security.

He has, however, always insisted he was the unwitting victim of an FBI sting operation and believed the batteries were for commercial use in the Netherlands.

For Mr Tappin, the rounds of his beloved golf that he plays most days are a solace and escape. “Without the golf, I’d go raving mad,” he said. “It keeps me from thinking too much about the case, but it’s tough, it’s very tough.”

His failed battle against extradition was one among a series involving Britons accused in the US of alleged crimes that took place on UK soil.

Last week, he heard some bittersweet news about the most high-profile of all such cases during his daily telephone call from his wife [] Elaine, who is in Britain and unable to visit him because she suffers Churg-Strauss syndrome, a severe allergic condition that endangers the body’s vital organs.

She told him that Theresa May, the Home Secretary, had ruled that the Briton, Gary McKinnon, accused of hacking into US military computers and causing 300 of them to crash, would not be handed to the US authorities for trial. Her last-minute decision to block his extradition frustrated US officials, who said publicly that they were “disappointed” but were privately furious.

Mrs May took the decision on medical grounds – Mr McKinnon suffers from Asperger’s, a form of autism and his family had argued that he would not survive life inside an US jail, even awaiting trial.

But she also announced plans to introduce a so-called “forum bar” under which judges would decide whether alleged offences should be tried in Britain rather than in the US. If such a law had already been in place, Mr Tappin might have been tried in Britain rather than in America – and as key evidence was collected from a sting operation, the case could have been thrown out before reaching court.

“I’m delighted for Gary and his mother Janis,” he said. “I’ve met them several times and this is great news.

“Gary would never have survived the prison they slung me into, not in his condition. It was the psychotic screaming throughout the night that got me. And the head-banging. And God help him if he’d had to go through solitary like I did, with the lights on 24 hours and the only human contact when they give you a meal three times a day. He couldn’t have coped.

“I desperately hope this presages a change to the system. Something has to be done with that treaty and we’ve been advocating for a ‘forum bar’ for a long time. It’s got to be changed.

“I hope I am the final Brit to be extradited under this treaty as it stands. My case should never be being tried here in the US, I was living in the UK when these alleged offences took place, the crimes were allegedly committed in Britain and the evidence against me comes from the UK, so why am I not being tried in the UK?”

As Mr Tappin awaits that trial, he is trapped in a “gilded cage” existence, and one that is eating up the money he made running his freight business.

After his release on bail, he initially lived at his lawyer’s $2 million home in an upmarket neighbourhood that is built around a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course and protected by private guards and security barriers.

He is now renting his own one-bedroom apartment in a nearby gated community in the wealthy suburban belt north of Houston called Woodlands. “There’s a gym and a swimming pool that I use and I try and keep myself physically fit, though mentally is a whole different challenge,” he said.

“It a very nice area with some lovely people, but you pay a heavy price for life in a paradise,” he noted wrily. “I miss my family and friends and home deeply. Life is boring, to be honest. Each day is deja deja deja déjà vu.”

He is not allowed access to email or the internet under the terms of his bail, but talks each day with his wife and friends and also spends several hours writing and answering letters in longhand.

And he does of course have his golf, playing with his own clubs after they were brought out on a visit by his son Neil, the deputy editor of Golf Monthly magazine. “I’m playing well and happy to get my game back after his two months in jail,” he said. “But these are hardly the circumstances in which I’d want to sharpen my game.”

Pointing to his ankle bracelet and GPS device he added: “And of course, I have to wear these things. It’s not comfortable, but you get used to it. The court charges me a $9 fee a day for the honour of wearing them.”

He has to be home each night from 10pm to 6am under a curfew, and most evenings he cooks for himself. So one big plus, he said, was the discovery of Goodwood’s British Market, a nearby store that specialises in foods from Britain. “They’ve got it all, bangers, fish and chips, Heinz baked beans, HP sauce, Robinson marmalade and the like,” he said.

But he is lonely and desperately pines for home. “It’s nice to hear an English accent,” he said during the interview. “At least the heat of summer has relented. This is the only place where I know where they have to chill the outdoor pools with ice.”

Adding to the strain is the deterioration in his wife’s health. Mrs Tappin visited him in June, but is now no longer allowed to fly on doctor’s orders and is awaiting an operation.

“Elaine is very unwell and this whole situation is really aggravating her condition,” he said. “It used to be me who cared for her. That’s now fallen to my daughter Georgina, but it’s a real strain for her.”

No family will be in El Paso on Nov 5 when appears in court – quite possibly in the manacles and jumpsuit that he had to wear for earlier hearings. “It really wouldn’t serve any purpose to have them there,” he said with resignation. “I just need to get home to them.” As the trial date approaches, the strain is taking its toll. “I used to feel OK, that I have a strong case and didn’t worry too much about it. But the nearer it gets the more I worry.”

He has lost weight and runs his hand through his thinning hair as he spoke, sighing and blowing out air as he talks about his exasperation at his plight.

“It’s utterly devastating to be in this situation at my stage in life,” he said. “I should be spending my retirement looking after my wife, enjoying my new grandchild and playing some golf. Extradition was a very bitter pill to swallow.”

He is not only dealing with the enormity of his legal challenge. He is also undergoing a crash course in American culture, and in particular that of its biggest state, as he finds himself living in a country that he only ever visited as an occasional tourist, the last time 10 years ago.

“Texas is a funny old pace and everything’s just so very different from Kent,” he mused. “They go on about road deaths here but there are guns everywhere and they don’t seem to care. There’s even a Gun Channel on the TV, for heaven’s sake.

“I have made some good friends playing golf, but it is difficult to reconcile how nice some of the people are and how harsh the system is. It’s not just me of course. They’re just as harsh on their own people. They don’t call it ‘Incarceration Nation’ for nothing. There is a huge prison population and the prison industry is a big business.”

Mr Tappin talks regularly to David Bermingham, one of the “NatWest Three”, the British bankers who were also controversially extradited to the US for financial crimes allegedly committed in the UK. The men were jailed in the US after admitting a single offence and sent home to serve out their sentences.

“It’s good to talk to someone who has been in this situation,” he said. And he hopes that a change in the extradition treaty will come in time to help Richard O’Dwyer, a 24-year student in Sheffield, who faces jail in the US for hosting a television download website from his bedsit.

Meanwhile, Mr Tappin is tangling with another immediate headache. His passport has been removed so he cannot board a flight. But his bail conditions restrict his movements to two counties in and around Houston, as his lawyer is based there, and El Paso, where he faces trial – but not the swath of Texas through which he would have to drive between them.

“I’m not quite how I’m even going to get to court,” he said. “What a situation.””

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Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
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To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Criminal Defense Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition Defense, OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal, International Criminal Court Defense, and US Seizure of Non-Resident, Foreign-Owned Assets. Because we have experience dealing with INTERPOL, our firm understands the inter-relationship that INTERPOL’s “Red Notice” brings to this equation.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.


FBI Still Struggling With Supreme Court’s GPS Ruling

March 21, 2012

NPR March 21, 2012 released the following:

“by CARRIE JOHNSON

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court said police had overstepped their legal authority by planting a GPS tracker on the car of a suspected drug dealer without getting a search warrant. It seemed like another instance in a long line of cases that tests the balance between personal privacy and the needs of law enforcement.

But the decision in U.S. v. Jones set off alarm bells inside the FBI, where officials are trying to figure out whether they need to change the way they do business.

Before the Supreme Court ruling in late January, the FBI had about 3,000 GPS tracking devices in the field.

Just in case, government lawyers scrambled to get search warrants for weeks before the decision, working to convince judges they had probable cause to believe crimes were taking place.

But after the ruling, FBI officials tell NPR, agents still had to turn off 250 devices that they couldn’t turn back on.

FBI director Robert Mueller III addressed the issue this month at a House Appropriations Committee hearing. He said the ruling will change the way agents work.

“It will inhibit our ability to use this in a number of surveillances where it has been tremendously beneficial,” Mueller said. “We have a number of people in the United States whom we could not indict, there is not probable cause to indict them or to arrest them who present a threat of terrorism. … [They] may be up on the Internet, may have purchased a gun, but have taken no particular steps to take a terrorist act.”

Before the high court decision, the FBI would have deployed electronic trackers to monitor those people. Now, teams of six or eight agents have to watch them, taxing the agency’s resources.

4th Amendment In Computer Age

Andrew Weissmann is the top lawyer at the FBI. He says the Supreme Court made a distinction about the Fourth Amendment, which guards against unreasonable searches and seizures, ruling that computers that follow suspects are much more intrusive than people doing the same thing.

“The court essentially is saying that you have an expectation of privacy even though if it was done by humans there would be no violation,” Weissmann says. “But because it’s done by machines, it is.”

In the Supreme Court case, FBI agents investigating a cocaine trafficking ring secretly put a GPS tracker on a Jeep belonging to Washington, D.C., nightclub owner Antoine Jones. They kept it there for weeks, without getting approval from a judge.

“In the Jones case, the Supreme Court held that reasonable people do not expect the government to track their location by attaching a GPS device to the bottom of the car for, in that case, 28 days,” says Catherine Crump of the American Civil Liberties Union.

The full implications of the decision are still coming into focus.

A concurring opinion by Justice Samuel Alito said that a month was too long to track a suspect by GPS without a warrant, but two days would probably be fine. That leaves a big gap for law enforcement to figure out on its own.

Weissmann says FBI agents in the field need clear rules. So, for now, he’s telling agents “when in doubt, to obtain a warrant to protect your investigation.”

But he says that’s not always possible.

“And the problem with that is that a search warrant requires probable cause to be shown and many of these techniques are things that you use in order to establish probable cause,” Weissmann says. “If you require probable cause for every technique, then you are making it very very hard for law enforcement.”

Beyond GPS Devices

Government lawyers say the Supreme Court decision reaches well beyond electronic trackers.

“That decision is reverberating very quickly into areas that I’m sure lots of you care about: national security, cyber security, privacy, more generally,” said Solicitor General Don Verrilli at a recent Georgetown University Law Center conference.

The Justice Department is predicting new fights over cars that come with GPS already installed, and cameras the FBI sticks on poles to catch drug dealers and speeders.

Then there’s the big enchilada: cell phone data.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit will hear a case this year about whether the government can get access to cell phone location data without a warrant.

You might be surprised to know it but every eight seconds or so, your cell phone can transmit information to a local cell tower signaling where you are.

Crump, of the ACLU, says that’s a lot more intrusive than putting a tracker on someone’s car.

“After all, a cell phone is something you carry with you wherever you go,” Crump says. “And we don’t think the government should be accessing that type of information without a really good reason, which they can demonstrate by getting a warrant from a judge.”

As for Antoine Jones, whose case made Supreme Court history, prosecutors say they’ll try him again — maybe using some of the location data from his cell phone.”

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To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Crimes Watch Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition and OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.