Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

April 27, 2014

A living nightmare

Rowan man in Ecuador for job interview jailed after drugs found in substitute suitcase

Shayla Menville

MOREHEAD — What began as a promising job interview has turned into a living nightmare for a Morehead couple.

Sarah Walling said her husband, Dennis “Pepper” Walling, had found an opening for a security position with AirServ International RAM. The company allegedly offered to fly Walling to Ecuador to interview for the position.

“He was only supposed to be gone from April 1 until April 8,” Mrs. Walling said. “I told him I didn’t have a good feeling about it before he got on the airplane.”

On April 21, Walling was scheduled to fly back to the United States when drug dogs targeted his suitcase at the airport and he was arrested.

 Mrs. Walling said for the time her husband was in Ecuador, he was provided money for food and hotel rooms, but also was shifted from hotel to hotel, waiting on the promised interview.

She said the suitcase was given to Walling by a representative of AirServ, who had also supplied him with living expenses after his personal suitcase had broken during the trip.

The new suitcase was found to be lined with three kilograms of cocaine with a street value in the millions.

Walling contacted his wife while still at the airport.

“I got the call around 4:41 a.m.,” she said. “We do have an attorney in Ecuador, Manuel Rizzo.”

She said her husband had a pretrial hearing within 24 hours of being arrested, but he will not be able to see a judge again until May 21.

“We have been told he could be facing up to 16 years in prison or as few as two to four,” Mrs. Walling said. “I know he did not do this. He is completely against drugs and has worked his entire life to help save people.”

Walling is a firefighter with the Morehead Volunteer Fire Department and also has been involved with the Montgomery County Volunteer Fire Department and Rowan County EMS.

“Everything seemed legitimate, but when he got there so many things just didn't add up. Now AirServ will not respond or give us any information,” Mrs. Walling said.

She has been in contact with the U.S. Embassy in Quito, Ecuador, and has worked to have her husband moved to Centro Rehabilitation, a prison hospital.

“He is not well. He has type 2 diabetes, obstructive sleep apnea, high blood pressure and recently had surgery on his leg,” she said.  

Mrs. Walling has to send $10 per day to an account so her husband can have food and medication while in custody.

“I was able to talk to him since he has been moved and he has still not received medication. He is insulin-dependent,” she said. “In America, you are innocent until proven guilty, but in Ecuador you are guilty until proven innocent.”

 She is hoping the speed at which she retained an attorney and the evidence she has gathered will help clear her husband of the charges.

“Most of all, we need prayers,” she said Thursday. “So many people are praying and we are thankful for some of the things that have happened regarding the situation, but it is very hard,” she said. “I have to tell our sons that their daddy won’t be home and I keep thinking he is just going to be home when I get there.”

 She said she will not stop until her husband is safely back in the United States.

“We've been calling and working for him since we got the call. He is not a drug trafficker and this is unreal,” she said. “It is something you see on television, read in a book or watch in a movie ... you never for one second think that it could happen in your life.”

CNHI News contacted the U.S. State Department about the Walling case and received the following statement:

“The Department of State is aware of the arrest of U.S. citizen Dennis Walling on April 20 in Quito, Ecuador. The U.S. Embassy in Quito is providing consular assistance to Mr. Walling and has urged Ecuadorean officials to provide appropriate medical care as long as he is in their custody.”