While Marine Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi was living on a base and eating MREs in Afghanistan and earning a battlefield promotion, his paychecks from Uncle Sam were piling up in the bank.
He dreamed of returning to Weston, Fla., when his second tour of duty ended and buying a new truck, maybe getting a place of his own. At 26, and with a modest nest egg waiting, he had a future back home.
Now Tahmooressi languishes in a Mexican prison, plagued by Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. And the $65,000 he saved in the service of his nation is gone, according to his mother.
"He has already lost all of his life savings."
- Jill Tahmooressi, mother of Marine imprisoned in Mexico
"He has already lost all of his life savings," his mother, Jill Tahmooressi, said. "When this is all over he will have nothing and will be facing an enormous debt."
Tahmooressi has been held since March 31, when he accidentally drove into Mexico at the San Ysidro, Calif., Port of Entry late March 31, after becoming disoriented from poorly lit street signs and being in a position on the road unable to make a last ditch U-turn. He was carrying all of his possessions, including three registered guns – legal in the U.S., but not in Mexico.
If convicted, he faces up to 21 years in prison. But even if he is set free, he will have nothing, his mother fears.
"He's been in jail for three months just for making a wrong turn and now he is broke," Jill Tahmooressi said. "He will walk out of jail a broke man."
Most of the money has been spent on attorneys, Jill Tahmooressi said. The Marine is now represented by Fernando Benitez, a legal star known for defending the mayor of Tijuana on weapons and corruption charges. While the family is confident in Benitez, two prior attorneys did little but send bills, according to Jill Tahmooressi.
She said their first lawyer, Alejandro Osuna, cost her son a prepaid retainer in excess of $10,000, although she declined to be more specific. Osuna was fired after he allegedly suggested Tahmooressi tell a judge at an April 28 hearing that he had never been to Mexico before his arrest, which was not true.
A second attorney, Lamberto Jesus Esquer Dabdoub, charged him $10,000 up front and didn't do anything prior to his firing eight days later because of lack of confidence by the family. Neither attorney ever submitted a shred of evidence to the federal court on Tahmooressi's behalf.
Benitez has yet to submit a bill, but given the case could stretch out for as long as two years, the Tahmooressi family is braced for expenses that could exceed $100,000.
The family of Jon Hammar, another Florida Marine caught at the border with a weapon he declared, told Jill Tahmooressi that in the four months he was in prison before his release in 2012, his legal fees alone exceeded $90,000.
Jill Tahmooressi said her son is shouldering the bulk of the expenses but she is not without her own financial burdens with the case. A nursing director at Miami Children's Hospital in Florida, she said she has already laid out more than $6,000 for travel to be with her son. The time she is taking from work is unpaid.
Jill Tahmooressi said she hasn't sought help because "economically, all of America has been hurting for so long." But three weeks ago, with the help of a California law firm that has been advising her, she established a charitable trust through Campaign Solutions in Washington. The name of the site to make donations for Andrew's defense is www.andrewfreedomfund.com.
But whether kind sympathizers chip in or the Tahmooressis have to go deeper into debt, the distraught mom said she would do whatever it took.
“I will pay any cost, including sacrificing our family home if need be, to pay the bills to Mexico associated with Andrew's release back to the states,” Jill Tahmooressi said.