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Effort to Collect from Individual in Witness Protection Program Addressed

By FindLaw Staff on February 24, 2010 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Gonzalez-Vera v. Townley, No. 09-5134, was an action seeking to invoke one of 18 U.S.C. section 3523's enforcement procedures, the appointment of a guardian to help collect a judgment against an individual under the Witness Protection Program.

As the court of appeals wrote:  "[Defendant] was linked to the July 1976 torture and murder of Carmelo Soria Espinoza ("Soria"), a United Nations diplomat then living and working in Chile. In November 2002, Soria's widow, Laura Gonzalez-Vera, along with the personal representative of Soria's estate, sued Townley seeking damages for Soria's torture and killing.  When Townley defaulted, the district court entered a $7 million judgment against him."

The court of appeals affirmed the dismissal of the complaint, holding that 1) Congress intended to make guardianship available only where the Attorney General found that the protected person was failing to make reasonable efforts--that is, only where disclosure to a guardian was necessary to enforce the judgment; and 2) here, the Attorney General determined that the protected person was making reasonable efforts to satisfy the judgment.

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