April 24, 2008 / 2:28 AM / in 10 years

Mexico judge jails Canadian woman for 5 years

GUADALAJARA, Mexico (Reuters) - A Canadian woman who became a cause celebre at home after being kept in a Mexican jail for two years without trial, received a five-year prison sentence on Tuesday after being convicted of links to an investment scam.

<p>Marjorie Bletcher, mother of Brenda Martin, a Canadian woman who has been sitting in a Mexican jail for two years without a trial, wipes away tears during a demonstration on Parliament Hill in Ottawa March 29, 2008. REUTERS/Chris Wattie</p>

A judge in Guadalajara found Brenda Martin, 51, guilty of accepting illicit funds from an Internet investment scam run by a former boss and sentenced her to prison and a fine equivalent to about $3,500.

Martin, who is from the province of Ontario, worked as a cook for fellow Canadian Alyn Waage in the Mexican beach resort of Puerto Vallarta, but denies being involved in his multimillion-dollar fraud scheme.

Waage, who is serving a U.S. prison sentence, has sworn that Martin knew nothing about it.

Martin’s case has been followed closely in Canada, where the Canadian government has protested to Mexico about the case, and individuals and officials have campaigned for her release.

Martin’s lawyer, Guillermo Cruz, called the verdict “irregular” and said there was no evidence to convict her. He told reporters that Martin screamed and collapsed when she heard the verdict and needed medical assistance.

Cruz said Martin could stay in Mexico and appeal, or accept the verdict and try to get transferred to a prison in Canada. “Her mental and physical state is pretty bad,” he said.

She is one of a string of foreigners in recent years to get embroiled in Mexico’s complex and often corrupt criminal justice system that routinely puts suspects behind bars for long periods before their cases are heard.

Mexico’s Congress passed a justice reform last month that will introduce the presumption of innocence and bring in oral trials, seen fairer than the written ones Mexico now uses.

Martin’s arrest was linked to a severance payment she accepted from Waage after he dismissed her.

Debra Tieleman, a friend working for Martin’s release, urged the Canadian government to help.

“She’s an innocent woman who’s been in jail for a very long time,” she said outside the court. “The Canadian government needs to step in. ... Enough injustice has happened to her.”

Neither the Canadian Embassy in Mexico nor the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs was available for comment.

Reporting by Arturo Perez; Writing by Catherine Bremer; Editing by Peter Cooney

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