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UNC professor Paul Frampton still in Argentine prison

Two months after his arrest, UNC professor Paul Frampton is still being held in a high-security Argentine prison, contesting charges of attempting to smuggle cocaine out of the country.

While detained, Frampton’s salary was terminated. The reason why, he said, he doesn’t yet know.

The decorated physics professor, 68, was arrested at a Buenos Aires airport Jan. 23, when 2 kilograms of cocaine were found in a bag he checked. He said the drugs were hidden in a secret compartment by someone else.

“I checked in a bag that did not belong to me because I thought I trusted the person who gave me the bag,” he said, adding that his lawyers have advised him not to say any more, including why he was in Argentina. “It was a scam. There is overwhelming evidence that I was not aware of the drugs in the bag when I checked in.

“What I expected was that the UNC administration would do everything possible to get me out of jail rapidly,” he said in a phone interview from Villa Devoto prison.

But he said UNC administrators have responded inadequately.
Bruce Carney, executive vice chancellor and provost, referred all questions to UNC spokeswoman Nancy Davis. Davis said UNC is bound by state personnel law and can’t comment on the situation beyond providing public information.

Frampton’s pay changed March 1 from $106,835 to $0, UNC spokeswoman Karen Moon said.

Frampton said the administrators he has contacted have been unable to tell him why his salary was terminated.

Carney sent a letter to Frampton’s defense attorneys in February outlining that the professor had missed four classes and that his salary would be terminated, Frampton said.

But Frampton claims there was a misunderstanding. He planned to teach a graduate class this semester, but when only one student enrolled, he canceled it without notifying his department’s chairman, he said.

“Carney terminated my salary for neglect of duty,” he said. “But the four classes never took place anyway.”

Frampton said part of the administration’s poor response is borne out of a “very deep, unconscious” academic jealousy on behalf of Carney, a colleague of Frampton’s and fellow physicist.

“Scientists like to do research to make groundbreaking discoveries, and I’ve probably made five and he has made zero,” Frampton said.

Carney wrote a letter to the Argentine judiciary in Frampton’s aid, Frampton said. UNC also sent Jonathan Hartlyn, senior associate dean for social sciences and global programs, who was in Argentina already, to meet with a member of the Argentine judiciary on Frampton’s behalf, Moon said.

But Frampton said the effort fell short. “The judge probably resented wasting his time with Hartlyn, who does not know Frampton,” he said.

Anne Marie Frampton, his ex-wife, said Frampton is “absolutely innocent.”

Frampton said he will likely leave prison in a week thanks to evidence in his favor, though he will still be detained in Argentina.

Nabil Khan, who took applied thermodynamics with Frampton at UNC in 2009, said he isn’t shocked.

“He was so oblivious, it wouldn’t surprise me if someone had duped him,” Khan said. “That seems plausible to me.”

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