Sunk

An American sailor's Caribbean sojourn comes to a watery and excruciating end

The next month was full of Caribbean-style debauchery. "The first place we stopped [in Puerto Rico] was Willy T's," he says. "The big thing there is that all the girls get drunk, take off all their clothes, and jump into the water for a T-shirt. There's nothing but bars and bands and women." He says he watched football, winning a $1,000 wager on the Super Bowl, and cheering when Ohio State beat Miami for the national championship; and hosted his 21-year-old nephew for a couple of weeks.

In late February, he headed for the Dominican Republic. After cleaning up the boat and hanging out for a few weeks in Boca Chica, just outside the capital, Santo Domingo, he decided to head for a small island called Beata near the Haitian border. He went to the local commandant, "a big old, fat guy," for approval of his itinerary. Farson contends they didn't communicate very well. That miscommunication would prove significant.

On March 8, Farson headed west with Copiano, owner of a small restaurant, and Cleto, an electrician, for what he thought would be a five-day sail. They spent the next two days lolling down the coast, drinking a little, and enjoying the sun.

Then came the March 9 confrontation near Enriquillo, a tourist beach about 11 miles from the Haitian border. While gathering up his stuff below deck, Farson decided to leave the gun and most of the money. He dropped anchor and headed for shore. When the trio climbed up, there were no police, only the mob. "It was a free-for-all," Farson remembers. "They pushed us and tried to steal everything, even my shoes." His clothes were ripped, and he was badly bruised. After a Good Samaritan shot his pistol into the air, the crowd dispersed and the three went to a hotel.

Fifteen minutes later, officers showed up and took them to a jail -- one of six they would inhabit in the next 12 days. When authorities spotted Farson's blue American passport, they separated him, slapped on handcuffs, and, he says, dragged him into a backroom. "There were two navy guys and two cops," Farson says. "They wanted my money."

In the room were switches with rope on the end and buckets of saltwater, he recalls. When he told the four officers he didn't have any cash, one whacked him in the knee, which was scarred from past surgery. "Just the right one," Farson says with a grimace. One of his interviewers, he contends, also burned him on the hand with a cigarette. Finally, Farson handed over the $900 he had carried ashore.

He slept the night on a concrete floor in the jail. The next day, the police chief said his men had found no guns or human cargo on the boat. Farson pulled his money clip from his behind, removed $20, and offered it to a guard for use of a cell phone. He called the American embassy. "I spoke to a guy named Christian Olivero," Farson remembers. After Olivero spoke to the chief, "they immediately took off the shackles," Farson says.

The next day, he was driven to another police station in the regional capital of Baralona, where he says he spent two more days. There were no more beatings, but there was also "no food, no water," and he slept on the floor. "By the end of the second day, I passed out."

The jailers, he says, revived him with a gruel of rice and water. Then he called Olivero at the embassy again. The official had, at Farson's request, called his sister Jennie in Ohio. "At first, they told me they were investigating Mark for alien smuggling, and I said, 'He lives in Miami -- he doesn't need any more aliens,'" she recalls. "They didn't laugh. Then I thought, they could kill him down there and nobody would know."

Then one of his jailers delivered news. Though they had been cleared of smuggling aliens, the trio would now be investigated for carrying drugs. So Farson, Copiano, and Cleto were driven to a narcotics division facility, where they stayed for two days. The boat was searched a second time, and again nothing was found. Farson was relieved.

On the fifth day of captivity, Farson again called Olivero, who declined to speak on the record with New Times about the case. "'There's been a development,' he told me," Farson remembers. "I'll never forget it. 'They're bringing in the Dominican navy. '" Next, the men were moved to Santo Domingo, where they were held for seven more days in three different jails. Only when Farson reached the capital city did two embassy employees visit him. "Tired and shaken" is the way one of his visitors, who declined to be named, described him. "He looked bad."

But things were temporarily looking up for Farson. He was able to convince a guard to allow him to use a nearby automatic teller machine, where he withdrew 4500 pesos, worth about $170. He used the money to buy a cell phone and bribe his way into a better cell.

Finally on March 21, authorities released him. Although he was given a signed document from the Dominican military stating that "a minute inspection [of the boat] was made and nothing compromising was found," his troubles weren't over.

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