The 76-year-old American Victor Stemberger has been imprisoned in Spain for almost a year for having entered the country with 2.4 kilos of cocaine sewn inside jackets. However, his family claims that he knew nothing of the drugs and that he was an unintentional mule.
The United States Department of Justice agrees with the elderly man’s relatives and has informed the Iberian country that they believe Stemberger was tricked into acting as a drug mule for a West African criminal network, according to correspondence obtained by The Associated Press.
The scams that attract older Americans or diminished mental capacity to become mules are fairly common, warn US authorities; In addition to being 76 years old, Stemberger suffered a brain injury almost 15 years ago.
Traffickers often convince more vulnerable people to receive payments if they travel or take any other requested action. In 2016, immigration and border authorities had intercepted more than 140 involuntary mules, some of them over the age of 87.
Stemberger’s son, Vic, believes that the only explanation for his father’s actions is that “these perpetrators really connected with our father under the veil of what he thought was a legitimate business opportunity. With his diminished state of mind, became the perfect victim of a crime syndicate like this.”
In March 2018, Stemberger received an email from someone posing as a financial consultant to the Nigerian Foreign Ministry, inviting the American from Virginia to a business opportunity with a lucrative payment. The job involved travelling abroad to deliver gifts and documents to officials, with the aim of recovering funds that had been misallocated.
Stemberger stated that he had planned to hand over the jackets obtained from the criminals to United Nations officials in Asia and did not know they contained drugs, however, the officials did not believe him at all.
A Vietnam veteran with two master’s degrees, Stemberger specialized in corporate executive training and prided himself on being a smart businessman, according to his son. But it has not been the same since a brain aneurysm in 2006 left him with impaired judgment and critical thinking.
Now, the Drug Enforcement Administration and New York prosecutors are investigating whether their contacts were part of a network of money launderers, fraudsters, and drug dealers in West Africa.