By Ray O’Hanlon
The Belfast couple whose Walsh Visa employer turned out to be a criminal were accused by him of being involved in a terrorist plot linked to Yemen.
The bizarre charge was leveled by the man James Murray and Ruth Gould knew as Steve Smith,
Smith is currently being held by authorities in Las Vegas pending sentencing in a case involving the abduction of a prostitute.
Murray and Gould were in court themselves last week facing an immigration judge.
The two face deportation from the U.S. after the company that allocates job placements under the Walsh Visa program, Virginia-based Logicon, accused them of violating the terms of their visas by being out of work.
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But in the couple’s first stroke of good luck in a while, the immigration judge granted the couple a stay of four months on deportation.
After the hearing, a delighted James Murray said that the extra time given by the court would give Ruth and himself the needed time to sort out their situation.
That situation, is, to say the least, bizarre.
As first reported in the Echo, Murray and Gould took up employment with Smith and his company, Las Vegas Airsports, last October after receiving clearance from Logicon to leave an initial job in North Carolina
What followed was little short of a nightmare for the couple as they became ensnared in an increasingly confrontational relationship with their employer, Smith.
That relationship was not only verbally nasty, but also physically risky.
Las Vegas Airsports ran a hang-gliding business and on one occasion, according to Murray, Ruth Gould’s hang-glider crashed into a dry lake bed while she was being towed by Smith.
The 27-year-old Gould was lucky to escape the incident without serious injury, her fiancT said.
“Another time Steve was towing me across the lake with a winch in a trailer attached to his jeep,” Murray told the Echo.
“He never picked up enough speed and I ended up running for ever across the dry lake.”
Murray said that only because he had competed in the Belfast marathon a few months before, he would not have been able to stay on his feet during the incident.
But scary as their on-the-job experience with Smith was in its early days, things would only get worse.
They would take a particularly frightening twist last February after a number of verbal confrontations between the Irish couple and Smith.
According to Murray, he e-mailed Logicon in mid-February after the latest in the series of confrontations with Smith over money and the nature of the couple’s work which, as it turned out, largely consisted of domestic chores at Smith’s house.
“He (Smith) then contacted Logicon and complained that we were in contact with people in Yemen, that we were learning how to fly aircraft and were making anti-American statements and planning a terrorist attack,” Murray said.
As a result of Smith’s complaint, Murray and Gould were arrested by the Immigration and Naturalization Service and jailed for a week before they were released without charge.
“Steve Smith was trying to get us deported so that the situation we had gone through would not end up at his front door,” Murray said.
In the end, it was Smith who ended up in the hands of law enforcement authorities after a Las Vegas prostitute accused him of threatening to kill her during a late night car ride in the desert outside Vegas.
Smith was later arrested after a siege of his house by Las Vegas police, including a SWAT team.
According to the Clark County district Attorney’s office, Smith was later able to plead down a charge of kidnapping to one of “conspiracy to commit coercion.” Smith has pleaded guilty, is in custody and faces sentencing later this month.
Meanwhile, Smith faces possible new charges in Las Vegas where prosecutors have uncovered an extensive rap sheet for him extending beyond the borders of Nevada.
Murray and Gould, in the meantime, have retained the New York law firm of Smith, Dornan and Shea with a view to filing a lawsuit for false imprisonment and emotional distress.
That suit, against Logicon, was still in the research stage but “definitely going ahead” attorney Eamonn Dornan said.