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A U.S. Navy air traffic controller has been convicted of wrongful use of cocaine and may be thrown out of the military soon – and he claims it’s all because he drank a cup of tea.
In July 2008, Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Javier Trevino, an air traffic controller stationed at Mayport Naval Station in Jacksonville, Fla., drank a tea his friends said they bought in Mexico. They said it would help relieve stress the sailor was under after his mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
Trevino told WND his friends in San Antonio, Texas, gave him 20 to 30 tea bags in a plastic bag, and he took them back to Florida. He said he never suspected anything unusual about the tea.
“It was wrapped like all the tea bags I have ever bought, brewed like normal tea, tasted like tea, quenched my thirst like all the other teas had done before,” he said. “I didn’t feel any effects out of the normal.”
Trevino, a father of three boys, then shared the tea with his 11-year-old son, Nicholas. He offered some to his neighbor before she drove her children home.
He even drank the tea with his best friend, co-worker Petty Officer 2nd Class Sean Lee.
To his shock, Trevino tested positive for illegal use of cocaine.
He contacted Lee, who didn’t believe the news – until authorities arrested him.
Ground coca leaves
“I couldn’t believe it,” Lee told WND. “I kept saying, ‘It’s not possible.’ Then I called a lawyer. We figured it had to be the tea because it was the only thing outside of my normal regimen that I had put in my body. It’s the only thing that was different in my diet.”
Subject to the military’s zero tolerance drug policy, both men were court-martialed and faced separate trials by military jury.
Even with identical cases, Trevino was found guilty and Lee was not.
Lee said he still suffers from nightmares after his six-month legal battle.
“I wanted to stay in the Navy and become an officer, and I thought about it after my trial,” he said. “But I got to see the ugly side of the military, and I don’t know if I want to be a part of it anymore.”
Trevino now has a federal conviction for cocaine use and may lose his Navy career and any chance at being hired for a position as an air traffic controller in the civilian sector.
“I will never control another aircraft again,” Trevino said. “I will be branded with a felony drug conviction for the rest of my life. It will be hard to support my wife and children. I will always have to compete with my peers in the civilian job market at a disadvantage. I will always have to explain myself at every job interview.”
He said, “Now I’m in the fight of my life.”
The Navy air traffic controllers claim to have ingested Windsor Mate de Coca
Without seeing the original packaging, the men say they never knew that what they drank was Windsor Mate de Coca or “tea of cocaine.”
The beverage is made from leaves of the coca plant. It is legal in the U.S. if sold in de-cocainized form, as listed on Amazon.com and from Reyes Avila, LLC, a trade company headquartered in North Carolina.
A representative of Reyes Avila identifying herself as Miss Lyelee told WND the company received calls from JAG lawyers about the cases, and that Trevino’s friends could not say where they bought the tea.
“He said in Mexico, and I can guarantee you that the tea is not sold in any store in Mexico,” she said. “We personally investigated that.”
However, several sources have told WND tea from coca leaves is widely available in Mexico.
Lyelee said U.S. drug tests do not test for cocaine.
“They test for benzoyne only, and one of the 14 alkaloids in coca tea is benzoyne,” Lylee said. “That’s why the ‘false positive.'”
Cocaine’s major metabolite benzoylecgonine, or BZE, can be detected in urine drug testing. The presence of BZE does not always indicate the subject has used cocaine. Some people may test positive if they have been given certain topical anesthetics by physicians or if they ingest some coca leaf teas. Although imported tea is supposed to be de-cocainized, some of it still contains small amounts of cocaine.
Due to a lack of evidence proving Trevino knowingly ingested the tea with intentions to get high, a judge in Trevino’s case urged his commander to overturn the ruling.
“The innocent ingestion evidence that was put forward by the defense was extremely credible, quite believable and in and of itself worth of a not guilty finding,” the judge said.
He stated on the record that he had “sincere doubts” about whether the government proved essential elements of its case.
Trevino filed a clemency request, urging his commander to overturn the ruling. The document states that Trevino boiled water to prepare the tea.
“This is important because … boiling water will cause cocaine to break down more rapidly into its metabolite BZE,” it said. “BZE is a completely inert substance and has no effect on the body.”
Numerous supervisors and character witnesses, including Trevino’s division officer and leading chief, testified on his behalf. They called him an “excellent sailor with outstanding military character.”
JAG attorney, Deborah Loomis, noted that Trevino and Lee had identical cases.
“If Petty Officer Lee is acquitted while Petty Officer Trevino is saddled with a federal drug conviction for precisely the same conduct, this will be a miscarriage of justice,” she wrote.
Nonetheless, his commanding officer, Capt. Aaron Bowman, has stood by the jury’s decision.
When WND contacted Bowman for comment, public affairs spokesman Bill Austin responded on his behalf.
“It would not be appropriate for Captain Bowman to comment at this time,” he said. “This case is still ongoing.”
Lee said he trusts Bowman and believes he will do the right thing since Lee was found not guilty.
“I have faith in the captain,” he said. “I think he’s going to overturn it. I just have faith and pray that he does.”
In his request for clemency, Trevino said he didn’t knowingly ingest any form of drug and that he deeply regrets drinking the tea without knowing whether it contained cocaine.
“Before joining the Navy, I spent a year doing missionary work in the inner city neighborhoods of San Antonio,” he wrote. “There I worked with drug addicts daily and preached the Gospel to them in an effort to save them from themselves. I saw first-hand how drugs can devastate people’s lives, and I would never knowingly have consumed a drug.”
Now Trevino said he wants to warn other Americans about how one simple beverage can destroy a career.
“It’s a hard price for a cup of tea,” he said.
Concerned individuals may e-mail Capt. Aaron Bowman.