Michigan couple must pay $5,250 fine for travel to Cuba, judge rules

Campaign News | Friday, 11 February 2005

Catholic pair fight the travel ban

DETROIT February 11 - An US judge has fined a Michigan couple $5,250 for traveling to Cuba in 2001.

The US Department of Treasury's Office of Foreign Asset Control had asked Administrative Law Judge Irwin Schroeder to fine Michael and Andrea McCarthy $9,750.

The McCarthys, of Port Huron, went to Cuba through Canada in April 2001. They are devout Catholics who considered the trip a missionary effort as well as a vacation. They brought medicine to a group of nuns in Havana, as they had done on similar trips to Mexico and Haiti, and participated in religious services.

"Here are five thousand reasons to repeal the ban on travel by Americans to Cuba," Sarah Stephens, an advocate for the couple from the Center for International Policy, which opposes the Cuba travel ban, said in a written statement.

"When the Bush Administration fines missionaries for bringing medicine to a convent, it is waving "bye-bye' to moral values."

A message was left Thursday evening seeking comment from OFAC, but officials have said in the past that the office does not comment on fines for specific cases.

At a Dec. 6, 2004 hearing in front of Schroeder, Michael McCarthy testified that he had brought samples of various medicines he accumulated through his job as a physician's assistant on the trip with him.

However, McCarthy was imprecise about the amount of time he spent on medicine and treatment during the trip, which cost the couple $1,600. In addition, there was no testimony that his wife, a registered nurse, spent any time supplying medicine during the trip, Schroeder said in his ruling issued Monday.

Schroeder said he took into account a number of factors in deciding the amount of the fine, including the humanitarian and religious intentions of the trip and the couple's limited ability to pay a substantial civil penalty.

The US government learned about the trip when the McCarthys told an officer at the border between Canada and Michigan that they had been to Cuba.

The McCarthys could have applied for a license to visit Cuba for humanitarian reasons. OFAC issues thousands of licenses each year to government officials, researchers, families visiting Cuban relatives, religious groups and others.

But the McCarthys' attorney, Kurt Berggren, said at the time that the couple knew others who had traveled to Cuba and believed the government wouldn't enforce its travel rules.

A message seeking comment was left Thursday night at Berggren's Ann Arbor office.

The McCarthys were offered a settlement of $1,000 each but refused because they wanted to challenge the law in a hearing. Michael McCarthy has said in the past that the couple believes strongly that their religion requires them to help make peace with countries such as Cuba.


On the Net:

Office of Foreign Assets Control: http://www.treas.gov/offices/enforcement/ofac/

Center for International Policy's Freedom to Travel campaign: http://www.cubacentral.com/travelvictims.cfm

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