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The Daily Utah Chronicle

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The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Stranded in Central America

By Celeste Chaney

When junior Eric Lippincott was arrested and imprisoned in El Salvador, the U.S. Embassy said there was nothing it could do.

In October of 2005, Lippincott, his former boss Robert Suckoll and his coworker Mark Pruter flew from Las Vegas to El Salvador as bail bondsmen in search of Julio Cesar Nerio, a 65-year-old man wanted in Las Vegas for five counts of child molestation.

What was supposed to be a two-day trip turned into 72 days of waiting, Lippincott said nearly nine months after his return.

Lippincott, a mass communication major, said he now understands how much control the media can have in someone’s life, because while in El Salvador “it controlled our justice system,” he said.

The El Salvadoran newspapers misrepresented his case, Lippincott said, recalling the words of the judge who presided at his trial. “If the media wouldn’t have created such a frenzy with their lies, (we) would have left for the states much earlier.”

Dirty Deeds Bail Bonds in Nevada released Nerio on $45,000 bail. He then fled the country, missing his court date and sticking the company with the bill.

Lippincott said the group went to El Salvador, Nerio’s native country, to talk him into coming back to the United States to face his trial.

El Salvadoran police helped them locate Nerio and, after a short time, the three bails bondsmen convinced the alleged criminal to return with them, Lippincott said. However, because Nerio did not have a passport, the men were told he could not leave the country.

Moments later, Lippincott and his companions found themselves in the custody of local police, Lippincott said.

Lippincott said that, even though they had taken precautions by informing the proper authorities, including the U.S. Embassy, they were taken into custody at the airport for allegedly depriving Nerio of his liberties in El Salvador.

“We were well aware of the fact that we didn’t have any rights over there-we were in their world,” Lippincott said.

He said he had pinned all his hopes on the U.S. Embassy, which came to visit them in prison after the arrest.

But, Lippincott said, he was shocked when the embassy told them it “had to remain neutral” and that it could not provide the name of an attorney for the men to contact. “They felt colder than the guards at the prison,” he said.

Veronica Flores, who has been the El Salvadoran consulate in Utah for five years, flew to visit the three men after she received a phone call from Lippincott’s mother.

Flores said that, while she was there, she went to speak directly with the U.S. Embassy and was not impressed.

“The embassy treated them as guilty until proven innocent and (was) condemning them (before the trial),” she said.

While Flores said she understands the U.S. Embassy could not cross a certain line, she said she believes members of the embassy could have been more involved and much more supportive of the men.

The embassy delivered the same message to Suckoll’s wife, Lesley Suckoll, that Lippincott received.

“They called after the first court date, telling me that my husband was looking at three to six years,” Lesley Suckoll said. “I dropped the phone?they made me feel like there was nothing anyone could do.”

After days of uncertainty, an attorney was assigned to represent Lippincott and the other two men.

Although the embassy told Lippincott there was “no hope for bail,” Flores, who remained in El Salvador with Lippincott and the others, paid their collective $30,000 bail after the third trial.

After spending 18 days in what Flores said was “a very small room with a cement floor and a little hole in the ceiling for light” with little food and water, they were released from their cell.

While awaiting two more trials and a verdict, Lippincott, Suckoll and Pruter were kept under house arrest in El Salvador, where they were watched closely but granted more freedoms.

On Dec. 20, at their fifth trial, a verdict was finally reached. When the English translator told the three they were free to go home, Lippincott said he was moved to tears. “I was so glad to just be free,” he said.

Nerio will remain in El Salvador until he recovers from a health condition.

On the morning of Dec. 22, 2005, nearly 72 days after his arrival in El Salvador, Lippincott returned home.

This fall is Lippincott’s first semester at the U; he attended Utah Valley State College for two years until 2004, when he moved to Las Vegas. He was enrolled at the U for Spring Semester 2006, but was unable to attend because of his late homecoming.

Since his return, Lippincott said life has been great; he is enjoying school at the U, friends, family and freedom.

While he said he holds no grudge against the El Salvadoran police, Lippincott said his views on the U.S. Embassy have not changed. “The embassy never wanted anything to do with us and did not make any effort to help,” he said. “I think, from my experience in El Salvador, that our tax dollars are being wasted on the American ambassadors.”

Photo courtesy of Eric Lippincott

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