By Leonel Sanchez | UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
A San Diego woman’s three-year battle to overturn a $10,000 fine for violating the U.S. travel ban to Cuba might be ending soon.
Joan Slote, 75, said she has agreed to pay a fine of $1,907.50.
Slote, who traveled to Cuba to participate in a bicycle tour in early 2000, said it became clear the U.S. government wouldn’t reduce the fine any lower or grant her a formal hearing.
“I would have liked it if they had completely exonerated me, but ($1,907.50) is better than nothing,” Slote, of Hillcrest, said.
A spokesman for the U.S. Treasury Department office that enforces the travel ban could not confirm the settlement yesterday.
Slote’s case received attention earlier this month when she spoke in Washington, D.C., at a forum organized by opponents of travel restrictions to Cuba.
Her supporters said her case illustrates uneven enforcement of the 4-decade-old travel ban because she was an unwitting violator who could not get anyone in the U.S. government to listen to her story.
Slote said the trip’s organizer wrongly informed her that it was legal to travel to Cuba as long as she left from Canada. When she returned, she told a U.S. customs inspector that she had been to Cuba and her case was referred to the Treasury Department.
She failed to appeal her case within the prescribed time because she was away when the Treasury Department sent the first notices to her home. Part of that time she was caring for her dying son in the San Francisco Bay Area.
She was fined $7,600 for spending a total of $38 on souvenirs and airport tax in Cuba. Her fine grew to nearly $10,000 while she tried to appeal it.
Tens of thousands of Americans visit Cuba each year without U.S. permission via Mexico or Canada. A growing number have been found and targeted for fines in recent years, according to Treasury Department statistics.
Slote’s lawyer, Tom Miller, said travel ban violators try to fight the fine by asking for a hearing or negotiating a settlement. However, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, which enforces the travel ban, lacks administrative judges to hold hearings.
Miller said he negotiated the reduced fine with help from U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., who is seeking to ease the travel ban to Cuba.
Slote said she hopes to pay the fine in three installments and fade from the public spotlight.
“I had my 15 minutes of fame. I’m finished,” she said.