Court Won’t Help Find|Pinochet’s Former Goon

     (CN) – A former henchman of late Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet owes the widow of a U.N. diplomat more than $7 million for torturing and murdering her husband in Chile in 1979.
     Now that he’s in the federal witness protection program, U.S.-born assassin Michael Vernon Townley has allegedly fallen behind on his payments, and a Washington federal judge told the widow on Thursday that his hands are tied.
     U.S. District Judge John Bates acknowledged that his 13-page opinion may leave Laura Gonzalez-Vera “without a remedy” in a 13-year-quest to make her husband’s killer pay.
     Townley was found to have played a role in the assassinations of two Chilean diplomats.
     Three years before being linked to the killing of Gonzalez-Vera’s husband Carmelo Soria Espinoza, Townley also helped to kill Chile’s ex-ambassador to the United States, Orlando Letelier.
     Townley spent a little more than five years in prison for his role in Letelier’s murder before agreeing to testify against the other killers.
     Judge Bates notes that he became the government’s “star witness.”
     “In exchange for this testimony, the federal government placed Townley in a witness protection program, where he has remained for almost 30 years,” his opinion states.
     In 2012, Gonzalez-Vera sued Townley in federal court in Washington, in a lawsuit that also named the United States and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger for their alleged roles in the coup d’etat that landed Pinochet in power.
     Although the court dismissed claims against Kissinger and the United States, it slapped a roughly $7.2 million default judgment against Townley for his role in the assassination of Gonzalez-Vera’s husband.
     Once U.S. marshals notified Townley of the judgment, witness protection program officials reviewed Townley’s finances before determining that he could reasonably pay $75 a week.
     Rejecting that deal, Gonzalez-Vera and her late husband’s estate sued Townley and the U.S. Attorney General in 2007.
     In February 2010, the D.C. Circuit because Townley’s $75 weekly payments met a “reasonable efforts” standard, the Attorney General had no obligation to disclose Townley’s location to Espinoza’s widow.
     Gonzalez-Vera sought Attorney General Eric Holder’s help when Townley allegedly missed his payments from “June, July, August, September, November and December 2013, as well as January 2014” – totaling $2,275, Bates said.
     “A flurry of letters back and forth resulted in plaintiffs receiving one $325 check from Townley for the missed October 2013 payment, but plaintiffs did not immediately receive any other payments, nor did the department immediately conduct a new ‘reasonable efforts’ determination regarding Townley,” the opinion states.
     Despite this, Bates still denied this was a reason to disclose Townley’s whereabouts.
     The Witness Security Reform Act “nowhere authorizes the courts to second-guess an Attorney General’s activities concerning that protected person,” he said.
     The judge also dismissed the alternative of appointing a guardian to field the matter.
     “There are significant dangers involved in disclosing a protected person’s identity and location-even to a guardian,” the opinion states.
     Bates recognized that this decision may mark the end of the line for the widow’s case.
     “To be sure, this result leaves plaintiffs, ‘though dissatisfied with Townley’s efforts to pay, without a remedy in these proceedings,'” he wrote. “But this is the balance that Congress has struck between a witness’s need for protection and a judgment-holder’s need for payment.”
     Gonzalez-Vera’s lawyer Ali Beydoun, the director of a human rights clinic at Washington College of Law, did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

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