Follow-Up: Free "Ten Romeo"!
GUEST EDITORIAL FOLLOW-UP. Three months ago, AVweb ran a guest editorial about the seizure by the U.S. Treasury Department of Beech Bonanza N7710R after its owner, Dr. Millard Harmon, declared an emergency and landed the oil-covered aircraft in Havana, Cuba. Since then, hundreds of readers have asked for an update on Ten Romeo. Ron Kensey reports that thereís good news and bad news: the U.S. Attorney has dropped three of the four federal charges against Dr. Harmon, but the fourth charge still stands, and Harmon is still without his beloved Ten Romeo some nine months after it was confiscated. Ronís update includes suggestions about how you can help.
If the case of "Ten Romeo" proves anything, it's that the government is not always right.
A few months ago, I wrote an AVweb guest editorial advising that the Federal Government had confiscated Dr. Millard Harmon's Beech Bonanza 36, N7710R. I owe you an update.
In civil action, the United States sued Dr. Harmon, charging him with:
intentionally landing in Cuba;
delivering medicine without a license, thereby violating the U.S. embargo of Cuba;
delivering medicine to unknowns; and
failure to clear U.S. Customs in Miami.
Since then, the U.S. Attorney has dropped three out of the four charges. By doing so, the government has now acknowledged that Dr. Harmon did have a Treasury OFAC license to export lifesaving medicines, that he didn't just give them to anyone, and that it was an in-flight emergency that caused Dr. Harmon to land in Cuba instead of his intended destination of Grand Cayman.
The one charge that remains has to do with Dr. Harmon bypassing U.S. Customs in Miami during his return flight, and instead clearing Customs in Albany, New York. Harmon knew the Feds were upset with him, and felt he could better clear up the misunderstanding at his home base of Albany, where he was well-known by the local U.S. Customs officials. He fully expected his airplane to be confiscated until the misunderstanding was cleared up, and preferred to have that happen where he wouldn't have to live in a motel room for weeks or months while the matter was sorted out.
The day before his return to the U.S., Harmon explained this in a FAX sent from Grand Cayman to Customs Commissioner Weise in Washington, D.C., and Customs Director Tony Knappik in Miami. But despite the fact that he made his plans and reasons known in writing, his plane was followed by a Government drug interdiction airplane on its flight from Miami to Albany, and his aircraft was confiscated when it landed in Albany.
At this point, we don't know what will happen. The good news is that three of the four charges the Feds initially made have been dropped, because in fact they were made in haste and without due dilligence. Ready, Fire, Aim! The bad news is that the one remaining claim could still result in the forfeiture of "Ten Romeo" if the Court decides (as the Government is urging) that Harmon must pay for the flight of the drug interdiction aircraft that tailed him from Miami to Albany, plus storage of his confiscated aircraft for a year and court costs. If the U.S. Government prevails, Dr. Harmon could be faced with paying many thousands of dollars to get his aircraft out of hock...or he may lose his airplane altogether. In my opinion, that would be a travesty.
What you can do to help
Many of you have asked what you could do to help. We have offered to raise money for the defense of "Ten Romeo" but Dr. Harmon is reluctant to accept financial help at this time.
I believe the best way we could help is to get the national news media involved. The public pressure that might result if the story of the "Ten Romeo" confiscation were told on ABC's 20/20, CBS's 60 Minutes, NBC's Dateline, or CNN's Imact might well help us turn the tide. If anyone reading this has the willingness, know-how and contacts necessary to help bring this case to the attention of the national TV newsmagazine producers, please contact me anytime, day or night, at 1-307-674-6498.