UNIVERSITY HEIGHTS, Ohio — After a Northeast Ohio was detained at an airport in Bangkok, Thailand in what appears to be an ongoing "bullet-in-bag" scheme to detain and extort travelers, U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) is calling for the U.S. State Department’s attention to possible schemes that aim to extort money from travelers.
At the end of 2019, University Heights resident Michael Jones took a vacation to Thailand, but things took a turn for the worse after he was detained by authorities because they claimed Jones had a single bullet inside his backpack. Since his detainment, his family has asked local, state and national politicians for help. His case caught the attention of Senator Brown's office.
In a letter to the U.S. State Department, Brown called on action from the department to inform American travelers about possible schemes.
I write to you today to raise concerns regarding the safety of Americans as they travel abroad and the steps that the Department takes to inform travelers of security concerns when they are far from home. It has come to my attention that some employees in foreign airports have resorted to a “bullet-in-luggage” scheme, which has led to the arrest and detention of travelers in both the Philippines and Thailand. The actions by these employees have had a lasting physical, mental, and monetary impact on travelers, and if the Department is aware of such schemes, it should make the information public and inform Americans of the dangers prior to travel.
Starting in 2015, media reports indicated that employees at the Manila airport in the Philippines would place a single bullet in a traveler’s luggage, which would then lead to detention after screening at security, charges, and subsequently legal fees. Since 2017, additional media sources noted the same scam at Subvarnabhumi airport in Thailand. When Americans travel abroad, it is incumbent upon them to take security considerations into account, however, if there are local employees involved in an illegal scheme to detain and extort travelers, the Department should take action to alert travelers and notify the countries of these scams. Airport security is of the utmost importance, however, our government should push reform efforts so that no other traveler has to go through such a terrible ordeal. I request a briefing regarding what the Department knows about this scheme or others like it, and what steps it has taken to inform American travelers of these concerns.
I appreciate the work that your office has done on behalf of Americans abroad, and I look forward to a quick response.
Jones' parents, Tanya Durden-Jones and Mike Jones, said their son took a vacation to Thailand alone for his 37th birthday.
He had a great time in Thailand, but when it was time to come home, there was a problem at the airport.
Security at the airport claimed he had a single bullet in his bag.
“He had nothing, and when he tried to explain that to them, it’s like you really can’t challenge their authority there,” Durden-Jones said.
Michael Jones was held at the airport and was only allowed to go free after his parents sent thousands of dollars through their bank to a law firm in Thailand to pay for an attorney and bail.
“If we did not do that, he can do 20 years for a single bullet in his duffel bag,” Durden-Jones, who said she and her husband consulted with the U.S. Embassy in Thailand, said. “So of course, that’s what we did, because they have our son.”
But Jones isn’t allowed to leave Thailand yet. His parents said Thai authorities say he must remain there until March, possibly for a court appearance, but his mother said his visa will expire in January.