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Ex-Peace Corps volunteer found guilty on drug charges

September 2, 2011

A Nicaraguan court on Monday convicted former U.S. Peace Corps volunteer and RE/MAX real estate franchise owner Jason Puracal, 34, of drug trafficking, money laundering and organized crime. He could face up to 30 years in prison in a trial that has been highly questioned by family members, local media and other observers. 

Puracal, a native of Washington State, in the U.S., was among 11 people arrested Nov. 11 on drug conspiracy charges (TT, Dec. 17, 2010). Puracal maintains his innocence and said he doesn’t know any of the Nicaraguan suspects in the case. 

Prosecutors alleged he was involved in “national and international transactions using a great amount of money without justification to buy and sell property, especially in the departments of Rivas and Granada.”

“Imagine how absurd this case is: Practically the entire proof against Jason is based on property titles from his office and receipts of property sales to foreigners in San Juan del Sur,” attorney Telma Vanegas said at the time of his arrest.

On Monday, Puracal’s sister, Janis Puracal, a U.S. attorney in Seattle, told The News Tribune that, “They convicted an innocent man without a single piece of evidence. … The trial was absolutely not fair.” She also said, “They didn’t produce a single document to prove the allegations against him during the trial.” 

At the time of his arrest, investigators pointed out that “[Puracal] kept cash money from different countries, which is the modus operandi of someone with knowledge about the international and national finances involved in money laundering and organized crime.” That statement appears to be based on evidence collected during a raid on Puracal’s home in San Juan del Sur, on the southwestern Nicaraguan coast. There, police found $75 in U.S. currency, C$2,270 ($108) and one ₡1,000 note from Costa Rica ($2). The total amount of cash in Puracal’s possession was less than $200.

Raised in Tacoma, Washington by parents of East Indian descent, Puracal went to the University of Washington and graduated with a double major in Zoology and Economics. He then joined the Peace Corps and came to Nicaragua in 2002 as part of the organization’s agricultural   program. 

After leaving the Peace Corps, Puracal moved to San Juan del Sur and got involved in the real estate market, eventually becoming a partner and then majority owner of the RE/MAX Horizons franchise. He is married and has a young son.

This week, U.S. Congressman Adam Smith issued a statement on Puracal’s case, calling the Nicaraguan justice system “flawed,” The News Tribune reported.

“[M]y office will continue to advocate for Jason as an American citizen and work with the State Department to explore all options under international law,” Smith told the Tribune.

Sentencing is scheduled for Tuesday.

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