Heather Guffin, Timeshare CEO and Expatriate, Stuck in Phoenix After Airport Arrest
A U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer looks over a long line at an airport in this 2011 CBP file photo.
Heather Rene Guffin, the CEO of a timeshare-marketing firm, was arrested at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport last week following an altercation with customs agents.
As of Friday, the 35-year-old expatriate was stuck in Phoenix, hoping a federal judge would rule that she can return to her husband and kids in Mexico, where she's lived since 2004.
Guffin's legal problems began, records show, after her plane landed from Cancún and she tried to cut in front of other passengers standing in a line for customs inspections.
On the web, Guffin touts her credentials as CEO of Alliance Sales and Marketing and the Association of Timeshare Recyclers, both of which help promote the timeshare industry. She apparently does a lot of flying. After she got off US Airways Flight 515 just after 8 p.m. on the recent Sunday night, according to a federal complaint, she was late for a connecting flight to California and did not want to wait in line.
Jesus Mata, an officer with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, reported that "Guffin came barging into the front of the line," where he was collecting customs declaration forms, brushing up against him and stating that she was going to miss her flight. He told her to get to the back of the line. A minute later, he noticed she'd cut ahead in line and was arguing with another passenger. He approached and said she could talk to a supervisor if she had a problem.
Guffin did talk to a supervisor, the complaint states, and after doing that, she proceeded to try to cut in line again, "at which time more passengers began complaining."
Mata escorted her to a secondary inspection area, where she was "very loud" and demanding. "She pushed Officer Mata on the right side of his chest two or three times, grabbed his airport identification, told him she was going to file a complaint, and blocked him from returning to his post, the complaint says.
Heather Rene Guffin, CEO of the Timeshare Recyclers Association, was arrested on January 26 on suspicion of assaulting a federal customs officer at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.
She told CBP Supervisor Raul Garcia that she'd missed her connecting flight and had a surgery scheduled the next day. She reportedly demanded an exemption to her customs inspection and was refused. Garcia told her to calm down and that she still had to wait in line like everyone else. She sat down in a waiting area. Then she got up, went back into the baggage-inspection area, demanded officers' names, and, the CBP employees say, made a sudden move for a pamphlet on a podium.
Guffin "rapidly" approached CBP Officer Jo Ann Svendsen and reached over the officer's shoulder and reached for the pamphlet, which was on top of a "plastic holder" on the podium. Svendsen "thought Guffin might also possibly be reaching for the plastic holder to use it as a weapon," says the complaint, which is signed by FBI Agent Donald Wente.
Svendsen and Garcia "tried to restrain Guffin, when Guffin started swinging her hands and delivered a palm strike to Officer Svendsen's chest, knocking Officer Svendsen off balance."
Guffin said later she didn't hit Svendsen but had been trying to pull her hand from Svendsen's grip. The officer wasn't injured.
Deborah Ostreicher, spokeswoman for the airport, referred New Times to federal agencies for video surveillance footage of the incident. (We'll let you know if and when it's released.)
Guffin was arrested and charged with a federal misdemeanor assault. She has a trial set for February 27 before U.S. Magistrate Judge David K Duncan.
This might not be such a big deal for an Arizona resident, who might reasonably expect no more punishment than a fine and probation if found guilty of the offense. But the U.S. government believes Guffin might be a no-show for the trial and has forced her to surrender her passport.
Now she's in limbo, allowed to wait for the trial with her mother in Olympia, Washington, but not allowed to return home to her family. Both of her children are under 10. She's decided to wait in Phoenix for a judge to consider her plight, records show.
On Friday, Valley attorney Michael Morrissey filed a motion with the court to have Guffin's passport returned, denying she's a flight risk. He noted that she flew to the United States for conferences and business meetings nine times in 2013 alone. Her business is based in the United States, and she already has plans to attend six events this year in Las Vegas, Denver, Washington, D.C., and other U.S. destinations, the motion states.
"By any view of this matter, Ms. Guffin had a bad night on January 26, 2014 in her attempted travel through Phoenix, Arizona to California for medical attention," Morrissey wrote to the court. "She hopes to resolve this matter in consultation with the United States Attorney's Office."
Meantime, Morrissey notes, Guffin's situation is "unlike any other defendant released on personal recognizance" because she can't go home to wait for the court case to proceed, a process that make take a long while. She promises to meet all her court obligations, naturally.
Lisa Jennis, an assistant U.S. attorney assigned to the case, told Morrissey that the government objects to Guffin's getting her passport back. He's not sure of the government's position on whether Guffin might be allowed to post a bond to assure her appearance at future court dates.
A hearing was held on Friday before Judge Duncan, records show, and Guffin was waiting for word on whether she'll get her passport back.
Guffin did not return messages to her business or Twitter account.
UPDATE: Court records now indicate that Judge Duncan ordered on Friday that Guffin can have her passport back. We assume she headed home soon after. We altered the article slightly to reflect the updated court records.
UPDATE 2 -- July 28, 2014 -- On July 17, records state, this case against Guffin was dismissed after she entered into a pretrial diversion agreement.
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