Updated Wednesday, November 7, 2012 at 04:53 PM
The French lawyer for Michael R. and Linda Mastro said he will tell a local court Wednesday that the bankrupt real-estate developer is an aging and ailing man who should not be imprisoned while American prosecutors seek to extradite him.
Thomas Terrier also painted Michael Mastro as an entrepreneur whose business collapsed, not a criminal.
“To my knowledge, this is not a Madoff,” the attorney said in an interview.
“He was a victim, it seems to me, of a runaway judicial machine,” he added.
Terrier said that in his view the case “should not be handled under criminal law,” and the Mastros should not have been taken into custody while the extradition issue is decided. “There was clearly a manipulation of the criminal law for authorities to be able to arrest them.”
Michael Mastro, 87, and his wife, who turns 63 Wednesday, disappeared in June 2011 after failing to comply with a Seattle bankruptcy judge’s order to turn over two giant diamond rings valued at $1.4 million.
They were arrested Oct. 24 by French police at the FBI’s request, and have been indicted by a federal grand jury in Seattle on 43 counts of bankruptcy fraud and money laundering.
The Wednesday morning hearing will be held in Chambéry, not far from Lake Annecy in the French Alps, where the Mastros were taken into custody.
Terrier said Mastro, who suffered a serious head injury when he fell from a ladder at his rented house in Palm Desert, Calif., in February 2011, left the U.S. and later came to the Lake Annecy area “to recuperate.”
“After his health problems my client lost many of his faculties, and his sudden decision to leave suddenly angered U.S. authorities, but the Mastros are not hiding!
“This is a judicial misunderstanding ... and based on the evidence I have today they should not be in prison, or the object of these proceedings.”
“I see this as the story of a man ... who believed in the American dream and who made his fortune in his own name without hiding behind other companies ... today he has lost everything, but has not cheated or defrauded.”
The U.S. Justice Department in Washington, D.C., did not respond to requests for comment.
Mastro was a well-known Seattle real-estate developer and lender for 40 years. But his highly leveraged real-estate empire collapsed when the economy tanked, and three of his bank lenders pushed him into one of the largest bankruptcies in Washington’s history in July 2009.
His debts to unsecured creditors have been estimated at $250 million.
Terrier did not disclose where Linda Mastro’s diamond rings are now, but said, “the jewelry does not seem to have disappeared.”
Laure Kepes and Ingrid Blanquer are free-lance journalists based in Grenoble, France. Translation assistance provided by Marie Koltchak, Seattle Times staff.
Seattle Times reporter Eric Pryne contributed to this story.
Eric Pryne: 206-464-2231 or firstname.lastname@example.org