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U.S. cruiser moved from Mexican jail

Dawn Marie Wilson was arrested in Ensenada for carrying medication without a prescription

An American cruiser who was jailed in Mexico more than a year ago for carrying pharmaceutical drugs without a prescription is returning to the United States.

It’s a bittersweet homecoming for 49- year-old Dawn Marie Wilson, though. She is being transferred from a prison in Ensenada to a federal facility in El Paso, Texas. From there, she may be transferred to another facility to serve the remainder of her five-year sentence, according to Liza Davis, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Consulate office in Tijuana, Mexico. The transfer is part of a quarterly exchange program that allows U.S. citizens who have unsuccessfully exhausted their legal appeals in Mexico to be transferred to a U.S. prison. About 90 people are transferred each year under the program, Davis says.

A parole board will determine if and when Wilson is eligible for early release.

Her fiancé, Terry Kennedy, says Wilson is a victim of corrupt Mexican police and an unsympathetic American government. He says Wilson was naive about Mexico’s prescription-drug laws, and he has worked tirelessly for her release.

Wilson’s saga began in April 2003, when she was stopped while walking in Ensenada. The California native ultimately intended to drive to Puerto Escondido where she lived with Kennedy aboard their trimaran Manta. Police searched her bags and found a large quantity of prescription medication. She was sentenced to five years and sent to a prison facility in Ensenada.

Wilson says she carried three months worth of the prescriptions she takes: Dilantin for preventing seizures and Vistaril, an antihistamine used to treat anxiety. She also says she was carrying medications to treat diabetes, which she says she had picked up for a friend.

But Davis says Mexican police found large quantities of five types of drugs — 445 pills in all. The list of drugs, which the police provided the consulate, included two types of appetite suppressants, a prescription painkiller, a sedative and an anti-anxiety drug, according to Davis. The list didn’t include Dilantin.

And while it is against Mexican law to obtain many pharmaceuticals without a prescription from a Mexican doctor, Davis says an individual usually is set free if they can provide proof of a medical condition and a U.S. prescription.

“At the time of arrest and trial, Dawn was not able to produce medical records,” says Davis.

Kennedy says their attorney erred by not providing the required proof. He says Wilson purchased some of the drugs at a Mexican drugstore and was never asked to show a prescription. He also maintains that the drugs were for personal use, not for drug trafficking. Wilson was charged with trafficking because of the quantity she carried. Kennedy says Wilson had hoped to be set free by now, but at least in a U.S. prison she will receive adequate medical care. Kennedy says the Mexican prison didn’t provide Wilson medication to control her seizures. She also didn’t receive adequate treatment for a broken hand, and might be permanently disfigured, according to Kennedy.

In the past 18 months 67 U.S. citizens have been arrested for prescription drug violations within the Tijuana district alone, according to Davis. She says other districts report far fewer such arrests, adding that Tijuana is the busiest consulate office in Mexico, and perhaps the world.

The U.S. Embassy cautions that possession of any amount of prescription medicine brought from the United States can result in arrest if Mexican authorities suspect abuse, or if the quantity exceeds the amount required for several days’ use. Keep all prescription drugs in their original containers, and carry a copy of the original prescription. Individuals also can consider obtaining a Mexican doctor’s letter explaining that the quantity of medication is appropriate for their personal medical use.

Cruisers who plan to visit Mexico shouldn’t buy controlled substances without a prescription, even if the pharmacy allows it.