'Affluenza' Teen Ethan Couch Enlists High-Profile Mexican Attorney in Ongoing Extradition Battle
Fernando Ben tez says he'll meet Ethan Couch for the first time Tuesday to discuss his case
A prominent Mexican attorney who says he specializes in “helping foreigners in trouble” has been hired to handle the attempted deportation of 18-year-old Texan Ethan Couch, the so-called “affluenza” teen apprehended last week in the resort town of Puerto Vallarta.
Couch was 16 when he drove drunk and killed four pedestrians in 2013; he was spared jail time and sentenced to probation after his defense attorney argued that he suffered from “affluenza” because of his wealthy upbringing.
Fernando Ben tez, Couch’s lawyer, tells PEOPLE he’s yet to meet with his client, but plans to do so first thing Tuesday.
“At that time, I expect he will inform me whether he wants to go back to Texas or fight his deportation,” says Ben tez. “No crime has been committed here in Mexico. Mr. Couch has been accused of failing to record his entry at the border and there are thousands of people in Puerto Vallarta who’ve done that, but they’re not being deported.
“We believe that if American authorities want to extradite him, they should get the State Department to file a petition, asking for his deportation,” adds Ben tez, telling PEOPLE Monday he’s ready to abide by his client’s wishes.
Investigators in Texas allege Couch and his mother, Tonya, fled to Mexico soon after potentially incriminating video footage of the 18-year-old appeared on Twitter, in which he is shown at a party where drinking games were being played. Couch’s 10-year probation sentence prohibits him from driving a car, doing drugs or drinking alcohol.
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The U.S. Marshals Service tracked Couch and his mother to a Mexico apartment where one of them used a cell phone to place a Domino’s Pizza order.
A judge has delayed Couch’s deportation following a writ filed last week by Ben tez. Couch’s mom has been returned to U.S. soil and is being held on $1 million bail for aiding her son’s run.
Lawyer: ‘We May Be Inclined to Dispute His Deportation’
Ben tez says a Mexican judge will determine whether Couch’s apprehension in that country “was kosher” and if his attempted extradition has “been handled legally.”
The lawyer claims the judge handling Couch’s extradition has issued orders to all sides, seeking responses that “state why they are doing what they are doing and what it is they are doing.”
According to Ben tez, “If the judge finds there were violations, we may be inclined to dispute his deportation.”
Ben tez tells PEOPLE that “representatives for Couch” were referred to his office last week, mostly because “I’m pretty well known for dealing with these kinds of cases helping foreigners in trouble who’re jailed in Mexico.”
Indeed, Ben tez represented Marine Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi in 2014 and got charges against him dropped after he’d been detained for weapons possession. His client list also boasts Jorge Hank Rhon, the former Tijuana mayor and sports betting scion.
Lawyer: ‘I Get That He’s a Hated Person in America’
Since revealing himself as Couch’s attorney, Ben tez has received “several hateful messages” and has read numerous editorials about his client.
“I get that he’s a hated person in America, but it is easy to feel outraged about something that seems unfair,” the lawyer explains. “This young man surrendered to the authorities. He pleaded guilty and received a sentence. If someone feels it was too light, maybe they should ask their congressman to legislate and impose tougher penalties for such crimes.
“He received his punishment,” Ben tez continues. “It’s not fair for him to be demonized in the media, especially when I doubt he was the one calling the shots in his defense at the age of 14. If you want to punish him for something he did as an adult, fine. But you can’t bring back the past.”