Last August, the Kellers traveled to Thailand for a vacation but didn’t make it out of the airport in Phuket, an island off Thailand’s west coast, before they were detained at an immigration office inside.
The Bangkok Post reported that Keller was among 32 suspects — 23 Thais and nine foreigners — accused in a cross-border investment fraud scheme. Victims in Thailand lost more than 200 million baht, or roughly $6.4 million, in the operation, the newspaper said.
“We have given them all this time to do something about it and now we are begging,” said Debra Keller, his mother. “We are reaching out for help because we know no one’s helping him. His life is (in) jeopardy and his health.”
Enjoying life in China
He was hired by Eagle Gates Group Co. Ltd. to act in promotional videos that would be posted on YouTube. The acting gig was based in Thailand, so he traveled there to take the job, then rejoined his wife in China.
“The time that he was working for them, there were no charges, nothing to signal that anything illegal was going on,” said Tanya. “He wouldn’t have known, anyway, because he wasn’t involved in that side of it.”
The Bangkok Post, however, reported that Keller was hired by a suspect in the case to pretend to be an executive of a company claiming to manage assets and invest in index futures. Thai investigators found that the company was not licensed to operate a securities business and was in fact a transnational crime syndicate, according to the newspaper.
The official said consular assistance could include ensuring that a detained U.S. citizen receives a fair and transparent legal process with access to counsel, visiting the person in prison to make sure they are receiving humane treatment and medical care if needed, and facilitating communication with family members or others.
However, Americans are subject to the laws of the country where they are imprisoned and the embassy cannot represent U.S. citizens in foreign courts, the official said.
Zachary D. Kaufman, associate professor of law and political science at the University of Houston Law Center, noted that the U.S. Embassy in Thailand does not have a Senate-confirmed ambassador in place, which can affect cases like Keller’s. Peter Haymond has been the acting ambassador since October 2018.
“There’s been a pattern since President Trump took office of his administration being slow to fill vacant ambassadorial posts,” said Kaufman. “The downside of being so slow is that when you have a sensitive situation like Mr. Keller’s case, the embassy is not at its full staff and strength.”
“I don’t even know if when I see him, if I will recognize him,” Tanya Keller said. “I want proof that he’s being treated humanely.”
Hunting, fishing enthusiast
Keller’s case recalls the 2018 arrest of Houston native William Nguyen, who spent 40 days in jail for taking part in a protest in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
Nguyen said he believed national attention focused on his imprisonment helped him significantly.
“To say that their treatment of me was kind is true, but we also have to take into context the fact that they knew that the world was watching,” Nguyen said. “They knew that they had to treat me with a certain form of decency.”
U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, along with Reps. John Culberson, Al Green and Gene Green, joined others in sending a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to ask for Nguyen’s release.
Cornyn’s office said in a statement that the senator had been in touch with the Kellers and had contacted the U.S. Embassy in Thailand to ensure that it was doing everything it could to assist the family.
Earlier this summer, the Kellers decided to wage a social media campaign to make the public aware of Derrick’s situation in Thailand. They started a petition on change.org which has gained over 17,000 signatures.
But they believe the U.S. government must step in before his trial ends at the end of August.
“I’m hoping and praying he knows that we are all fighting for his life,” said Debra Keller..