By Britt Hysen
On September 12, 2012, Jason Puracal became a free man. An American selling real estate in Nicaragua, he was found guilty of a crime he did not commit. Wrongfully accused and sentenced to 22 years in prison for drug trafficking, money laundering, and organized crime, Puracal served two years in one of Central America’s most dangerous prisons- La Modelo. Living the nightmare of any American abroad, it would take the unconditional support of his family, the thought of his son, and the graces of God to pull him out of that prison alive.
It was 2002 when Puracal graduated from the University of Washington, joined the Peace Corps, and volunteered to teach sustainable gardening practices to locals in Nicaragua. In 2006, he fell in love with a native woman, settled down in a three-bedroom home, and welcomed a son into the world. Puracal seized an opportunity to invest in the real estate market in the surfing town of San Juan Del Sur, and joined three business partners in opening a beach side Re/Max franchise. Their main clientele consisted of American, Canadian, and European foreigners in search of hidden gems properties. Puracal’s success as a realtor in the area earned him recognition as an agent for the popular Home & Garden show, International House Hunters. At the time, it would appear Puracal had made a good life for himself in Nicaragua.
November 10, 2010 was just an average day as Puracal went to work. His mother, Dr. Daisy Zachariah, a public health physician was visiting from Tacoma, WA and watching over her grandson that morning. Not long after arriving at his office, Puracal was stormed by police in ski masks carrying AK47s. Without a search warrant or official arrest, police bagged his head, threw him into the back of their van, and drove off. Caught completely off-guard, Puracal’s life was about to change forever. Minutes later, police burst in on his home in a similar fashion, frightening his mother and son. Zachariah immediately called her daughter, Janis Puracal, an attorney in Seattle, to get in touch with the US Embassy in Nicaragua and figure out why her son had been taken.
Police raided both the Re/Max office and Puracal’s home seizing all files, computers, phones, and bank accounts, including all moneys in the escrow accounts. After being brutally beaten in public, Puracal was then held at gunpoint in an interrogation room for the next eight hours. Wondering what he had done wrong, he was not granted the right to speak to anyone for the next few days. It would take another nine months in detainment for Puracal to find out that he was linked to 10 other defendants in a case that held no evidence. The absolute horror of a lifetime ensued as Puracal was sent to La Modelo, a bug and rat infested prison with unsanitary health conditions for prisoners. Lacking all due process rights, he was denied the opportunity to speak to his lawyer in confidentiality, and did not receive a fair trial.
Providing no witnesses, the prosecution claimed Puracal was using his Re/Max business as a front for money laundering. Their financial expert stated he didn’t understand the operations of an escrow account, and thus, it must have been used for illegal means. Janis spoke with the Seattle University of Law earlier this summer and said, "Not one piece of evidence was presented at the original charging hearing. In a drug trafficking case, not one gram of drugs was presented as evidence. In a money laundering case, there was no evidence of money changing hands. In a conspiracy case, they could not show Jason had any ties to the other defendants." With a sufficient amount of information missing from the case, Puracal received no assistance from the Re/Max Corporation, nor any help from the Nicaraguan government or US Embassy. He was facing an insurmountable bias and quickly realized his fate.
On August 16, 2011, Puracal and the other 10 Nicaraguan defendants, none of whom knew each other, were all sentenced to 16 to 30 years in prison for drug trafficking, money laundering, and organized crime by an unregistered judge who held no jurisdiction on the matter. Devastated by this ruling that went against Nicaraguan and International Law, Janis took the initiative to gain support from the International Rights Community. Over the next year, she would dedicate her life to getting her brother out of that prison.
Serving time with some of the worst criminals in Central America, Puracal feared for his life everyday. “The thought of my son and wife were what gave me the motivation to keep going.” The only way he was able to follow the progress of his case was by short phone calls to his sister every month and visits from his wife and attorney. “Everyday was a struggle. My wife was robbed three times when trying to visit me.” Conditions were dangerous as Puracal was denied edible food and potable water on a daily basis. His health was deteriorating as he lost 30 pounds and was suffering from malnutrition and dehydration.
Janis would soon have good news as she gained the attention of former director of the Drug Enforcement Agency, Thomas Cash; former Canadian Attorney General and counsel for Nelson Mandela, Irwin Cotler; and co-counselor Jared Genser. Cash had started a petition on Change.org that quickly accumulated 90,000 signatures, each being sent to the Nicaraguan government which ended up shutting down their server. Seattle University of Law reported that the international legal defense team additionally found that “the trial was presided over by a political appointee who was neither a judge nor a licensed attorney. When his lack of qualifications came to light, he fled and has not been heard from since.” Together the international advocacy team was enough to send the case to an appellate court which evaluated the mistreatment of Puracal and the lack of evidence against him.
Justice was brought to light as all 11 defendants were found innocent and pardoned from La Modelo on September 12, 2012. Puracal found himself enjoying a traffic jam on his first day out as a free man. He was shortly reunited with his wife, son, mother, and sisters as he returned home to the States. Although suffering terrible circumstances, Puracal remains optimistic about Nicaragua and his future of returning. He is currently writing a book dedicated to his son on his experience and will be returning to the University of Washington to continue his research and development on sustainable infrastructures.
To learn more about Jason Puracal and his survival story, visit http://FreeJasonP.com or http://facebook.com/jason.puracal
Published on October 15, 2012