Five-year sentences asked for soldiers' wives accused in meth case
Stars and Stripes June 20, 2007
SEOUL — A South Korean prosecutor recommended Monday two Philippine wives of American soldiers be sentenced to five years in prison for allegedly helping smuggle methamphetamine in the country by mail and then using it.
Neither woman has been convicted.
Both Irine Melendy and Rosalie Gieselman have said in court and in interviews with Stars and Stripes they didn’t know a package that arrived at Gieselman’s Uijeongbu house on March 19 contained 15.1 grams of methamphetamine hidden in slippers. They say two Philippine men, Alega Warren and Aldwin Castro, needed someone to sign for the package, and to have an address to which it could be delivered from the Philippines.
Warren and Castro live and work in South Korea but have no apparent connection to the U.S. military and no SOFA protection. The prosecutor has recommended that they be sentenced to five years in prison but not fined.
Both men testified on Monday, but a South Korean judge barred a Stars and Stripes reporter from taking notes during the hearing.
The men gave differing versions of how the women were involved in getting the package, and of the events leading up to the arrest of all four later that morning. Their stories also differed from Gieselman and Melendy’s previous accounts.
The men and Melendy said, however, that the three went to a post office to pick up the package around 9:30 a.m., but couldn’t claim it because Melendy had only eight of the package’s nine shipment numbers.
“I didn’t know what those numbers were,” said Melendy, who said she was doing a favor for Warren because he was in the country illegally and couldn’t sign for the package himself. She later signed for the package when it arrived at Gieselman’s house, though it was addressed to another woman.
Gieselman, who is eight months pregnant, has admitted to using drugs in South Korea. Melendy, who is 25 and has been married to a U.S. soldier for nearly six years, has admitted to using drugs in the past but not in South Korea.
The prosecutor said hair tests showed Melendy may have used drugs in March, when the package arrived in Uijeongbu. Melendy’s attorney said the rate of hair growth differs from person to person, and the test doesn’t conclusively show that she used drugs in March.
Both women tearfully apologized to the judges at the end of the hearing.
“They’re giving lies so much. They were using me for the address,” Gieselman said after the hearing.
All four will be sentenced on June 29.
Gieselman’s husband, David Gieselman, told Stars and Stripes after Monday’s proceedings he thought the recommended sentence was harsh compared to sentences U.S. servicemembers have gotten in the past for drug charges.
“Where’s the balance?” he asked. “That is way too much.”
In July 2000, Air Force Capt. Andre Gladden was sentenced to five years in prison after Korean authorities and U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command agents found more than four pounds of cocaine in his Itaewon apartment. Prosecutors said Gladden smuggled the cocaine, with a South Korean street value of about $9 million, in a household goods shipment when he was transferred from Panama.
Prosecutor also wants women to pay court costs
The South Korean prosecutor wants the women on trial in the methamphetamine case to pay for costs associated with the case.
He recommended that Irine Melendy be ordered to pay the court 200,000 won and Rosalie Gieselman be ordered to pay 100,000 — about $220 and $110.
It was unclear Monday what the payments were intended to cover.
While translating the prosecutor’s statements to English for the women, the court-provided translator said the fines were to cover the extra costs of trying and imprisoning them under the Status of Forces Agreement between the United States and South Korea.
After the trial, however, the translator said the court costs were incurred not because of the SOFA but rather the money was being requested because tests had proven the women had used drugs.
She said the prosecutor expressed frustration with trying the case because the SOFA rules made it difficult for him to question the women.
The SOFA dictates how members of the military community — including civilian workers and family members — are treated in the South Korean legal system.
For example, the Americans don’t perform the sort of hard labor assigned to adult inmates convicted of serious offenses.
Korean inmates share cells, but SOFA regulations dictate that U.S. inmates get individual cells. They get an hour of exercise time each day and are allowed to cook Western-style meals, such as spaghetti and salads, according to a past interview with an American inmate.
The American prisoners also have access to college classes and can subscribe to English-language newspapers.
— Stars and Stripes