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Churches help fund missionary’s defense

Associated Press, USA
Sep. 8, 2003 • Wednesday September 10, 2003

Man jailed in Mexico for having drugs sold over counter in U.S.

OKLAHOMA CITY Churches in Oklahoma and Texas are trying to raise money for the legal defense of a missionary jailed in Mexico for possession of drugs commonly sold over the counter in the United States.

Police stopped Steve Frey on Aug. 20 in the border town of Reynosa, Mexico, and checked medications in Mr. Frey’s van. Mr. Frey, of El Paso, was charged with transporting a prohibited controlled substance and avoiding a federal checkpoint, according to a Mexican indictment. He was sent to a federal penitentiary in Reynosa on Aug. 23.

Marty Dyer, mission director for Newsong Church in Grove, Okla., said he frequently traveled with Mr. Frey to the Valles area, the home of about 100,000 impoverished Huasteca Indians.

“Steve would have a medical team comprised of doctors, dentists, nurses and other helpers who for 12 hours would see most people of a village,” Mr. Dyer said.

“He has single-handedly raised a medical team in Valles that goes to over 200 villages each year, seeing people who would have never had medical treatment if it hadn’t been for the medical team.”

So far, churches in Oklahoma and Texas have raised more than $16,000 for Mr. Frey’s defense, officials said.

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, who is involved with missionary efforts, is looking into the matter, said Danny Finnerty, Mr. Inhofe’s communications director.

Mr. Frey was traveling to a medical clinic in Valles run by medical missionaries, said Mark Russell, the director of Benito Juarez Orphanage in Reynosa, in a telephone interview.

A six-page indictment said Mr. Frey was also charged with taking items into Mexico without paying taxes, said Gary Malone, an interpreter and Grove-based missionary.

“I am here under drug-trafficking charges alongside those who were caught trafficking hard-core street drugs,” Mr. Frey said in a letter to a friend. “Mexico is very, very severe with drug traffickers, and I face the possibility of being incarcerated for many years in the Federal Penitentiary.”

In his letter, Mr. Frey said Mexican authorities seemed most concerned about the medicines that contained the drug pseudoephedrine, a common ingredient in allergy medications.

Mr. Russell said Mexican officials are also concerned that Mr. Frey took back roads to avoid federal checkpoints. But it’s common for missionaries to avoid federal checkpoints because they may have to pay a high tax or supplies could be confiscated and destroyed, Mr. Russell said.

Arrests are a common hazard of medical missionary work, said Dr. Carl Heinlein, a medical missionary since 1976 who worked with Mr. Frey for eight years.

“When you do this type of work, you do it knowing it could land you in jail,” Dr. Heinlein said.

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