Time is running out for Shawn Abraham Shaw, who federal prosecutors say is an international fugitive who hid out in Palm Beach County after he kidnapped a wealthy U.S. businessman in Thailand and negotiated a $2 million ransom in December 2013.
Thai police and prosecutors say Shaw committed a bizarre series of crimes against Antonio Accornero, a businessman who splits his time between Las Vegas, Nevada, and Phuket, Thailand.
Unless there is some very unlikely last-minute intervention by top U.S. officials, Shaw, now 45, expects he will be extradited to Thailand imminently to face criminal charges there, his lawyer said Monday.
"There's no real stopping this right now, we've exhausted most, if not all, avenues," Shaw's lawyer Andrew Feldman told the Sun Sentinel.
Feldman said he is very concerned for Shaw's well-being if he is turned over to Thai authorities, as expected. He said he's worried his client won't see fair treatment from the justice system there and will be detained in the country's "horrific" jails.
Shawn Abraham Shaw, 45, is facing extradition to Thailand to face charges he kidnapped a wealthy U.S. businessman and negotiated a $2 million ransom in December 2013. Federal prosecutors said he was an international fugitive who hid out in Palm Beach County. He is shown in a Nov. 18 photo from the Broward jail system where he was briefly jailed while being moved from South Florida to Los Angeles, to await extradition. (Sun Sentinel / Broward Sheriff's Office Handout)
If convicted of the most serious kidnapping charge, Shaw could face life in prison in Thailand, court records show. He would almost certainly be jailed there while the case against him is pending, the lawyer said.
Shaw has been locked up in South Florida for the last two years while he fought extradition. Last week, he was moved to a federal detention center in Los Angeles "in preparation for his extradition to Thailand," prosecutors wrote in court records.
Shaw was arrested Nov. 26, 2014, at the town of Palm Beach condo where he most recently lived with his fiancee.
Shawn Abraham Shaw, 45, and Dawn Pasqualucci, 47, of Palm Beach. U.S. officials are trying to extradite Shaw to face criminal charges in Thailand, alleging he kidnapped a U.S. businessman for a $2 million ransom. (Sun Sentinel/Family provided photo)
Investigators say Shaw secretly drugged Accornero at a Phuket bar, put him in a car, and used plastic ties to bind his neck to the headrest of the passenger seat and tied up his wrists and ankles.
In a sworn statement to Thai police, Accornero said Shaw held him captive overnight in a house and they negotiated a $3 million ransom. Accornero said he talked Shaw down to $2 million the same night and the money was to be paid when Shaw returned to the U.S., according to court records. No money changed hands, officials said.
The defense has said Shaw was set up by Accornero, who they say wanted Shaw jailed as revenge for a failed business deal between the two men.
Shaw has said Accornero is a friend he met when they worked out at the same Las Vegas gym and the two men were working on a potential business venture. The idea was to cash in casino chips that tourists took home, in exchange for a percentage of the takings.
The circumstances surrounding Shaw's likely extradition are "unprecedented," his lawyer Feldman said, because they involve allegations made by one U.S. citizen against another U.S. citizen; the alleged crime went unreported for about 40 days; and the allegations appear to concern a formal business deal that was handled by lawyers.
The defense has argued that business lawyers for both men continued to try to negotiate the casino chips deal for about a month after Shaw returned to the U.S. from Thailand.
Prosecutors said the ongoing discussions were an attempt to cover up a ransom payment, which was to be disguised as a business deal.
The Sun Sentinel's attempts to contact Accornero by phone, email and Facebook messages during the last two years have been unsuccessful. Phone and email messages seeking comment on Monday from Sandy Van, a Las Vegas lawyer who previously told a reporter that she represents Accornero, were not returned.
Shaw is a naturalized U.S. citizen who was born in Guyana. He said he has lived in the U.S. for about 37 years, since he was a child, attended a couple of years of law school and worked a series of jobs until 2014.
Shaw's fiancee Dawn Pasqualucci testified in federal court in South Florida that Shaw told her Accornero threatened Shaw's and Pasqualucci's lives after Shaw claimed he found something on Accornero's computer that Shaw said could have been incriminating about Accornero.
Pasqualucci also testified that she and Shaw were followed and intimidated by private investigators, who they thought were hired by the victim, when they lived in Staten Island, N.Y.
Court records show Pasqualucci went to the FBI in Newark, N.J., in January 2014, a month after the ransom was reportedly negotiated, and told agents that she suspected Accornero was involved in human trafficking. The FBI did not appear to have started any investigation. The couple moved to Palm Beach a few months later.
Federal prosecutors in South Florida, who handled the extradition case for the U.S. Department of State, said there could be serious diplomatic consequences if the U.S. did not honor the terms of its international treaty with Thailand.
That treaty calls for both countries to turn over crime suspects to face trial as long as the requesting country has enough evidence to file charges.
Shaw initially feared he could face the death penalty in Thailand, but Feldman said Thai authorities have assured the U.S. government that they will not seek his execution.
"But life imprisonment in a Thai prison … is essentially the death penalty in a lot of ways," Feldman said Monday.
The judges who have handled the case in West Palm Beach and Miami during the last two years have limited powers in such cases, some of them said in court.
A judge is required to sign an extradition certificate if the evidence presented is strong enough to warrant turning over a suspect who is wanted in the other jurisdiction, according to transcripts of court hearings.
The final decision on whether to extradite Shaw lies with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. According to letters from state department officials that were submitted in court, there appears to be little hope that Shaw's extradition will be halted.
In an Oct. 24 letter, one state department lawyer wrote that the department's decision to surrender Shaw to the Kingdom of Thailand reflects a finding by the agency that "the fugitive is not more likely than not to be tortured."
Officials had "carefully and thoroughly considered" humanitarian concerns and addressed them with Thai authorities, the official wrote.
One international lawyer who has visited Thai jails and prisons, Robert Amsterdam, submitted an affidavit on Shaw's behalf stating: "I find it horrifying that an American citizen could be sent to a country as lawless and corrupt as Thailand under the present military junta to face a bogus form of criminal justice."
"I have personally toured prisons in Bangkok and Northern Thailand and did not see one prison where I would allow a domestic animal to be kept, let alone a human being. Words cannot describe the filth, stench and brutality of Thai jails," Amsterdam wrote in the court record.