RALEIGH, N.C. - The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill physicist being held in an Argentine prison after 2 kilos of cocaine were found in his luggage has been diagnosed with a personality disorder that - despite three Oxford University degrees - allowed him to be easily duped into carrying the drugs, say supporters and the scientist himself.
Paul Frampton, the Louis D. Rubin, Jr. Distinguished Professor of physics and astronomy, flew to South America after being tricked on the Internet into believing he would be meeting a young model, said his ex-wife and several friends and colleagues, including the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Sheldon Glashow of Boston University and Harvard University, with whom Frampton has written more than a dozen research papers.
Instead, when he got to Bolivia, he was asked by someone else to carry a suitcase to Argentina and, ultimately, the United States. Frampton, 68, was arrested in January at the main airport in Buenos Aires as he tried to fly back to Raleigh-Durham International Airport. He faces up to 16 years in prison.
The drugs, he said, were in a kind of false bottom in a check-in-sized suitcase that otherwise was empty.
In two telephone interviews this week from Villa Devoto prison in Buenos Aires Frampton admitted that a normal person would have been leery of accepting a bag under such circumstances.
"I'm an outlier in the naivety quotient as well as IQ," he said. "I buy that.
"There were, of course, warning signs that most people would have viewed with great suspicion, and this diagnosis as a defense explains the foolishness," he said. "But I certainly had no idea there were illegal drugs and certainly had no idea of smuggling drugs to make money."
Frampton said his defense attorneys hired a forensic psychologist who met with him twice in prison and diagnosed a schizoid personality disorder that prevents him from making normal social connections and renders him unusually gullible, he said.
Friends and supporters say the outcome was hardly surprising.
"He is totally devoted to physics and to his students, but in the rest of his life he has always been like a child," said his ex-wife, Anne-Marie Frampton of Durham.
Published reports in Argentina and Britain, where Frampton was born, say the eminent physicist told an Argentine judge that he got caught up in an Internet "honey trap" supposedly involving a well-known model.
In telephone interviews, Frampton has consistently declined to detail the chain of events leading to his arrest, other than to say that he had come to South America to meet a friend. It would harm his defense to say more, he said.
Some of the published stories were inaccurate, he said.
"I can say that I never personally met, spoke to or communicated with a model," he said.
Asked whether he had been conducting an Internet exchange that led him to believe he would be meeting a woman, he declined to say more.
His ex-wife said the woman was probably fictitious, and that in any case he apparently met with an intermediary, not the woman he had expected to find.
Anne Marie Frampton said that during one telephone call from prison she had asked him about a posting about his predicament on a physics-related blog that included a woman's photo and name. Frampton dismissed it, saying that the woman in question's name was entirely different.
Several friends said Frampton had a history of pursuing young women in foreign lands on the Internet, and that it was another symptom of his personality disorder.
Glashow, the Nobel laureate, said Frampton once persuaded a Chinese woman in her 20s to marry him, but when he flew to China she took one look at him and backed out.
A few weeks after Frampton's arrest, UNC-Chapel Hill Provost Bruce Carney wrote him to say he was going to stop Frampton's $106,835 salary and put him on personal leave because he obviously couldn't do his job from prison.
Frampton filed suit last month in North Carolina's Orange County Superior Court to have his pay restored. He says he has been able to perform his research, has written two research papers, and has been properly advising his graduate students via telephone.
Last week, Judge Allen Baddour turned down Frampton's request for a preliminary injunction to prevent the university from stopping his pay. His attorney here, Barry Nakell of Chapel Hill, said he'll keep pursuing the lawsuit.
A university spokeswoman declined Wednesday to discuss the lawsuit but provided copies of documents UNC had filed with the court.
The university says in its court filings that Frampton is not able to do his job because, among other things, he obviously can't teach his classes, participate in faculty committees or hold office hours to meet with students, and that his lack of access to the Internet hinders his ability to do research, collaborate with colleagues and communicate with students.
By July or early August, he'll run out of money and lose his car and apartment here, Frampton said. This week, supporters started a campaign to raise money to help him afford better food in prison, where he's living in the same room with 79 other prisoners, and perhaps eventually hire a private attorney to replace his court-appointed ones.
In an interview Monday, Frampton said that he remained upbeat about his chances of returning to teach by fall.
In regular calls, though, Anne Marie Frampton said that she detects a deterioration in his confidence.
"I think he has started to realize the gravity of his situation," she said.
)2012 The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)
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