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After he beat rape charges abroad, an American could land in jail again over an expired visa

Scott McMahon and his children, Nicole and Scott McMahon, Jr. (Courtesy of David House Agency)

For five years, Scott McMahon languished in an overcrowded jail in the Philippines, awaiting trial for a crime he swore he did not commit.

This month, a court in Manila agreed with him, acquitting the Seattle man of two rape charges. The court also questioned the credibility of the accuser, citing discrepancies in her statements.

Still, McMahon is not completely in the clear.

The father of three has not been allowed to leave the Philippines, and concerns are mounting that he could be rearrested at any time because of a $3,000 fine the country's Bureau of Immigration wants him to pay for his expired visa.

McMahon would not have owed that money had he not been incarcerated since 2011, according to a U.S. organization that helps people facing legal problems abroad.

McMahon's visa expired in 2013 while he was in jail; the Bureau of Immigration is charging him $1,000 for every year that his visa was not renewed, Eric Volz, managing director of the David House Agency, told The Washington Post. The organization has been providing services to McMahon at no charge.

Volz, who has been communicating with McMahon's family and attorney in the Philippines, said McMahon has the option to appeal the fine. If that succeeds, he will not have to pay.

That process, however, is lengthy. So McMahon's family is choosing the faster option: paying the money.

To do that, though, McMahon has to submit an affidavit explaining why the visa expired in the first place, Volz said. The review process for that could take up to three weeks.

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Although there isn't a warrant out for McMahon, his family remains concerned about another arrest after U.S. Embassy officials in Manila confirmed the risk. If arrested, McMahon will be detained until his immigration case has been resolved. And the longer it takes to clear the fine, the greater the likelihood of an arrest.

In an email to The Post, Bureau of Immigration spokeswoman Antonette Mangrobang said the agency must collect fees and fines from foreigners who have overstayed their time in the country. McMahon, Mangrobang said, may submit a formal request for the fines to be waived, and Bureau of Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente will make the final decision.

"To date, the Bureau's Legal Department has not received any request from Mr. McMahon," Mangrobang said.

She added that foreigners who have overstayed and come to the agency to settle outstanding fines or penalties "will not be arrested absent any other immigration violation."

Volz said the United States should facilitate a way to communicate to the Philippine government that the fine is invalid in the first place.

"He's entitled to at least some public display of support from the U.S. government," Volz said. "We're asking the U.S. government to do whatever's needed for him to get on a plane as soon as possible."

The State Department's response to McMahon's situation has been lackluster, Volz said. He said that McMahon's mother, Shelley Campanella, has repeatedly asked for a meeting with the U.S. ambassador to the Philippines but has not been granted one.

A State Department official said the agency is aware of reports that McMahon incurred immigration fines while in jail. But the department is generally unable to provide direct legal assistance or intervene in foreign legal cases, the official said.

McMahon moved to the Philippines in 2003 and has two children with his fiancee, Marnelli Abad, who is Filipino. The couple has been unable to marry because McMahon is still legally married to a woman from the Philippines, with whom he has a son. He and the woman have long parted ways, but divorce is not legal in the Philippines.

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McMahon's accuser said she was raped by him in early February 2010, when, as several witnesses attested, McMahon was more than 200 miles away, visiting his fiancee's family. The accuser did not tell police about the alleged attack until six months later. The Post has not been able to locate contact information about the woman, who is married to a friend of McMahon's.

McMahon's mother has long maintained that her son was wrongly accused by the woman after he filed a complaint alleging that she had traumatized his child. McMahon, according to court records, said that while he was in jail, the woman sent word that she would withdraw the allegation if he dropped the child abuse case and paid her 5 million pesos (about $125,000 at the time).

According to the ruling clearing McMahon of the charges, his accuser's testimony "cannot be given full credit for lack of sufficient evidence."

The case prompted the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to send a letter last year to the Philippine Foreign Ministry highlighting concerns about McMahon's "arbitrary arrest" and lengthy incarceration without a conviction — and despite evidence of his innocence.

The U.N. agency has not received a response.

"We express concern that Mr. McMahon's arrest and detention, as well as the subsequent legal proceedings, appear to be in violation of the rights not to be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention, to be tried within a reasonable time, and to a fair hearing before a competent, independent and impartial tribunal," the letter states.

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Despite evidence of his innocence, McMahon was denied bail — a decision that didn't come until 2014, three years after he petitioned for it.

Carlos Conde, a researcher for Human Rights Watch's Asia division, said McMahon's case represents a common scenario in the Philippine judicial system.

A person accused of a crime — any crime — often ends up jailed for years while awaiting trial. In 2014, the Supreme Court of the Philippines ordered the release of about 286 people who were awaiting trial but had been incarcerated longer than the minimum sentences they could have received for their alleged offenses.

Conde said that people accused of crimes in the Philippines have the same constitutional guarantee of a speedy trial as those accused in the United States but that the Philippine judicial system is not equipped to enforce that law.

That is because the judicial system does not have enough courts, judges and prosecutors to handle cases, he said.

Often, prosecutors, who do not usually work hand in hand with police investigators, file charges that are unlikely to hold up in court. And detainees who should be released for lack of probable cause — such as McMahon — end up staying in jail until the courts can get to their cases, Conde said.

This problem, along with overcrowding, is mainly driven by the country's tough drug laws and could worsen amid President Rodrigo Duterte's ongoing war on drugs, Conde said, "as hundreds of new detainees are crammed into detention facilities."

Conde said he thinks McMahon's five-year incarceration was the longest for any Westerner jailed in the Philippines on a charge that did not result in a conviction.

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Volz said McMahon has been experiencing health problems, including intestinal trouble, sinus and gum infections and insomnia, because of the deplorable conditions in the Muntinlupa jail, where the American shared a cell and a toilet with 50 other inmates. The cell was in an 880-square-foot-area that houses more than 200 prisoners, according to David House.

"The best thing for him is to leave the Philippines as soon as possible, come home and get medical attention," Volz said.

Online fundraising through CrowdRise has been set up to help McMahon pay for the fines, overdue attorney fees and a plane ticket home. More than $7,000 has been raised so far.

An online petition to bring McMahon home also has garnered more than 32,000 signatures.

"This has gone long enough," the petition says. "Please sign this petition for Secretary Kerry and officials in the Philippines to bring Scott home to his family."


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