54-year-old US man from Ohio Robert David Bell had used the fake passport extensively in Thailand and other countries. His arrest came when an eagle-eyed immigration officer spotted discrepancies in the document such as the spelling of Vancouver as ‘Vancover’ and conflicting bar codes.

An American from Ohio was sentenced to 4 years imprisonment in Mukdahan prison last week by a provincial court which accepted his guilty plea to using a forged Canadian passport last year at an immigration checkpoint. The man was arrested last September and will have to serve at least two years of his prison term before he is eligible for parole.

The arrest of Robert David Bell on the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge at Mukdahan at the of September 2019. An eagle eyed immigration officer finally spotted the flaws in his ill forged passport after 5 years of use in Thailand, Malaysia and Laos. This week, he was sentenced to four years in prison after pleading guilty to the charges in February.

The force of the law hit an American, working in Thailand in the education sector, last week when he came before the Mukdahan Provincial Court for sentencing. 54-year-old Robert David Bell had pleaded guilty to charges before the court at his trial in February accepting that he had knowingly used a forged Canadian passport to enter Thailand and live in the kingdom.

Police later discovered an expired American passport in the man’s name which linked him with the US state of Ohio.

Pleaded guilty in February

This February, in the face of overwhelming evidence against him, the defendant who has been held in custody since his arrest on the Friendship Bridge between Thailand and Laos at the end of September last year, finally relented and entered a guilty plea.

Could not provide supporting details or evidence to bolster his defence that he bought the passport believing it to be somehow legitimate

The American from Ohio had tried to claim as a defence that he had obtained the passport from a Bangkok firm and that it was somehow legitimate in what appeared to the court as a tissue of lies without providing any detail to his story or supporting evidence.

Used the forged passport for five years

The court, at his trial on February 20th, heard that he had used the poorly forged passport over a five year period within and without Thailand without being detected by authorities in the kingdom or other countries including Malaysia and Laos.

Poor nature of the forgery highlighted when Mr Bell used his passport to try to enter Laos last September 

The arrest of Mr Bell last September was reported extensively and most media reports centred on the poor nature of his forged passport.

The document had mismatching bar codes and spelt the Canadian city of Vancouver as ‘Vancover’ in one part.

 This together with incorrect ink colours were among a total of at least five errors in the document which was eventually spotted by an eagled eye female immigration officer at the crossing into Laos who brought it to the attention of superiors.

Warned that he faced up to 10 years imprisonment without a guilty plea to the court in February

At his trial, he was warned by the court that the crime was one of a serious nature involving the forgery of an official document for use in a manner which endangered national security.

It was also noted that the situation was aggravated by the ongoing use of the passport by the accused.

Mr Bell was told that if found guilty by the court without pleading his guilt that he faced up to 10 years imprisonment.

Sentenced to 4 years, at least 2 must be served at Mukdahan prison in Thailand’s northeast

This week, before the court, he was sentenced to 4 years in prison and told by the judge that he would be eligible for parole in 2021 taking into account the time he had already served in prison since his arrest.

In court with his girlfriend

The 54-year-old was accompanied in court by free legal aid lawyers and his girlfriend. 

The educator is currently serving his sentence at Mukdahan prison but the court insisted that he must have served a minimum of two years of the sentence when asked by the man’s lawyers to consider releasing him on time served.

The court made the serious nature of the charges clear to the defendant at the sentencing hearing

The court made it clear that it had to send a signal to those who appear to willy nilly abuse the immigration system and for the use of an illegal, forged document. 

The judges took into account and balanced this their acceptance of the relative hardship endured by foreigners serving prison time in a Thai correctional facility

Offered a job at a Bangkok university

The court in February heard that Mr Bell was on his way to renew his visa at Savannakhet in Laos as he had secured a position working at a university in Bangkok.

In a strange twist, as instructions were given by the court that the convicted man was to be deported from Thailand via the American Embassy at the completion of his sentence, the 54-year-old asked that he be instead deported to another jurisdiction.

Further reading:

Highly dangerous Irish offender arrested by Thai Immigration police in Bangkok on Soi 58

Crackdown on illegal foreigners sees American teacher arrested in class and Russian at his restaurant lunch

Dutch national identified from CCTV using police biometric system after Ko Tao theft and arrested

Canadian arrested at the border but a lifeline for foreigners seeking marriage and retirement visas