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Chimayo Man Has SUV Confiscated in Mexico After Clerical Error

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — 58-year-old describes ‘Kafkaesque’ situation last November, fears his 1989 Nissan Pathfinder is ‘gone forever.’

Lawrence Malone, a 58-year-old resident of Chimayo who has lived in the Santa Fe area since 1987, isn’t hopeful about getting his SUV back after it was confiscated in Mexico last November because of an error by a clerk at a Mexican bank, The New Mexican reported.

“Mexicans are kind of used to this,” Malone told The New Mexican. “They know their government’s on the take … It makes you appreciate the relatively streamlined system here.”

Malone was on his way to Toluca, near Mexico City, last fall to speak at a university conference about his specialties — bicycles and sustainability, The New Mexican said.

Crossing the border at Columbus, N.M., on Nov. 10, he was carrying six children’s bicycles he had built from salvaged parts and was planning to give away, camping gear and a case of “Three-Buck Chuck” wine from Trader Joe’s in his 1989 Nissan Pathfinder, the paper reported.

Customs agents in Palomas, Mexico, made him unload his vehicle for inspection by a drug-sniffing dog, and he was facing a fine for having more than the six-bottle limit of Charles Shaw wine, Malone told The New Mexican.

Malone went with officials to the Banjercito, a nearby branch of the Mexican Army-owned bank, to buy a 442-peso windshield sticker called a permiso de importacion, The New Mexican said.

When Malone turned over photocopies of his passport and driver’s license and the original of his vehicle registration, he accidentally included a copy of the registration for his other car, a 1991 Saab that remained back at home in Chimayo, and the bank clerk wrote down information for the Saab and called it a “Subaru” on the sticker for the Nissan, the paper reported.

After passing through one checkpoint 20 km south of the border, he was stopped at a checkpoint in Janos, on the highway to Nuevo Casas Grandes, 150 km south of the border, where the discrepancies were spotted.

“They accused me of a fraud and an engano, a deception,” Malone told The New Mexican. “They wanted my truck, basically … They like SUVs.”

Customs officers impounded the Nissan, and Malone was able to unload his belongings, store them with a nearby family, and caught a bus back to Palomas, where the customs officer told him he’d have to fill out a document with his own written account of the incident and wait for the problem to work through the system, the paper reported.

He returned home to Chimayo in February, after spending time with people in Mexico and trying to straighten out the problem with authorities there.

But after writing or calling officials with Mexican customs, the bank, the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, the U.S. consulate in Juarez, the Mexican consulate in Albuquerque and various media outlets — he’s still waiting.

“I’m in a completely Kafkaesque situation, and nobody is stepping forth,” Malone told The New Mexican. “I’ve basically written off my Nissan. I haven’t quite. But it looks like it’s gone forever.”