State Department

‘State Department got punked’: US takes heat for boosting lawyer fired by jailed Marine

May 28, 2014: Alejandro Osuna is shown outside a court hearing in Tijuana for jailed Marine Andrew Tahmooressi, who fired Osuna as his attorney on Wednesday.

May 28, 2014: Alejandro Osuna is shown outside a court hearing in Tijuana for jailed Marine Andrew Tahmooressi, who fired Osuna as his attorney on Wednesday.  (

A day after the U.S. Marine jailed in Mexico fired his attorney amid growing ethical concerns, the State Department is facing questions over why it had included the lawyer on an official list of legal contacts for Americans in a jam. 

Marine veteran Andrew Tahmooressi apparently reached out to the lawyer, Alejandro Osuna, after seeing his name on an online list of attorneys posted by the U.S. Consulate in Tijuana. 

But according to Tahmooressi's mother and those working with him, the lawyer soon afterward urged him to lie to Mexican officials about his circumstances -- which made the Marine uncomfortable and presumably contributed to the firing on Wednesday. 

Bart Santos, who has been working with Tahmooressi's family as a private investigator since his arrest, told that the State Department "absolutely" should remove Osuna from that list. 

"He was lying on behalf of Andrew," Santos said, adding: "The State Department got punked." 

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The Marine was thrown in jail two months ago after, he says, mistakenly crossing the border with registered guns in his truck. He fired his attorney before appearing at a hearing on Wednesday. 

According to sources, including an April email sent from Osuna and obtained by, Osuna had urged Tahmooressi to misrepresent the facts. 

The email shows Osuna wanted his client to "stick to the script" and claim he'd never been to Tijuana, even though he'd been there a half-dozen times. 

Santos said Osuna also wanted his client to say he'd only been in California for a week, though that wasn't true either. 

"There's no reason to lie about these things," he said, adding that Osuna was working with his brother-in-law on the case. 

As feared, the inconsistency soon surfaced and was pointed out by the Mexican press earlier this month, forcing Tahmooressi's supporters to go on defense and clear the air. 

His mother, Jill Tahmooressi, told Fox News' Greta Van Susteren on Wednesday that the attorney drama has been a "big, unfortunate distraction." 

"I don't understand why the truth couldn't have been told the right way the first time," she said. 

Asked for comment about the vetting process for its attorney lists, a State Department official said Thursday that embassies and consulates typically ask lawyers in their districts about things like English fluency and legal expertise. The U.S. posts also confirm that each lawyer "is licensed or certified under local law and in good standing." Any lawyer who wishes to be on the list also must "affirm in writing" that they're not facing any pending disciplinary actions, the official said.  

The official said that any U.S. citizen who has concerns with an attorney on the list should file a complaint with the local bar association, and that consular officers do take those complaints "seriously." Without speaking directly to this case, the official said the State Department reviews whether an attorney should stay on the list when multiple complaints are filed.

The department's embassies and consulates provide these kinds of lists at locations all over the world. A cursory search shows that U.S. posts everywhere from Turkey to Singapore to Spain offer a list of attorneys for Americans to contact. 

A disclaimer at the top of the Tijuana list says the U.S. Consulate General Tijuana "assumes no responsibility or liability for the professional ability or reputation" of the attorneys listed. The disclaimer also makes clear that the inclusion of anyone does not constitute an "endorsement" by the U.S. government; it also says the consulate does not "vouch" for the information listed, which is apparently provided by the attorneys themselves. 

But Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., who has been pushing aggressively for Tahmooressi's release, questioned the steps the department was taking to have some idea of who these lawyers are.   

"Andrew is in a tough situation. He's on foreign soil and he's facing a legal system that is not fair or transparent," he said in a statement to "But if our State Department provides a list of attorneys, in this specific case via the consulate in Tijuana, then it's necessary to ask if these lawyers are vetted in any way or is it that anyone who has been hired by an American at one time or another makes the list." 

For his part, Osuna claims he did not tell his now-former client to lie. 

Asked Wednesday if he did, Osuna said: "My response to that is 'no.' But I don't wanna get into that. We've had our differences about how things happened." 

In an email to on Thursday, Osuna also said he "couldn't care less for" Hunter's questions about his inclusion on the list of attorneys. 

"Most cases from the US Consulate I either refer to other attorneys or I simply decline," he said. Osuna said that in Jill Tahmooressi's case, "it seems like that day I was the only person that took her call or was willing to follow up on her son's arrest, something that I have now come to deeply regret. It is not nice to get hate mail or death threats." 

He declined to go further into detail about the mother's concerns, citing "confidentiality" to the jailed Marine. He added: "Nothing however changes the fact that Sgt Tahmooressi is an innocent person, who should not be in prison."

Osuna also released a statement to The San Diego Union-Tribune earlier this month explaining that in his April email urging his client to "stick to the script," he was simply expressing concern that the Marine "might utter something" before a judge that could be used against him before they had "complete knowledge of the facts." 

Hiring lawyers abroad can be a costly and risky endeavor. The mother of Jon Hammar Jr., another U.S. Marine who spent several months in a Mexican jail until his release in late 2012, told that they paid $90,000 "and some change" for their attorney. 

Olivia Hammar also said it was "clear" the attorneys on the U.S. Consulate list were not vetted. "It was essentially from the phone book," she said.

Fox News' Dan Gallo and's Joseph Kolb contributed to this report.