Tuesday, November 27, 2012

UNC physics professor falls victim to romance scam

This has probably been covered in a number of places already, but the relevant Argentinian court has ruled in this case, so it's worth covering in full:
The 68-year-old UNC-Chapel Hill physics professor arrested in Argentina early this year after being caught with more than 4 pounds of cocaine hidden in a suitcase has been convicted by an Argentine court. 
Paul Frampton, the Oxford-educated Louis D. Rubin Jr. Distinguished Professor of Physics and Astronomy, told investigators he was duped into unknowingly carrying the drugs after being lured first to Bolivia with a promise of meeting a famous bikini model. 
He was sentenced to four years and eight months of confinement Monday afternoon after three days of hearings. He expects to serve his sentence under house arrest at a friend’s apartment in Buenos Aires.
It sounds like the prosecution has him dead to rights, with the drugs in hand. However, it's pretty clear that he thought that he was communicating with the bikini model in question.* (N.B. Google searches will be guaranteed to be Not Safe For Work.) From my perspective, it's kind of sad. I suspect (although I could be completely wrong) that someone younger/more-Internet-savvy or someone with somewhat stronger family/community ties would not have fallen for this classic confidence trick.

Naturally, his salary and tenure are at risk, which is generating its own little controversy.

What I find worthwhile for discussion is that Professor Frampton appears to be serving his role as a professor while in legal trouble in Argentina:
Frampton contends that he has been doing his job while incarcerated, including writing research papers and advising students by telephone and email.
I would be interested to hear from readers about professors who have been similarly out-of-pocket (overseas? on sabbatical? in space?), and whether or not they have continued to carry out their duties as professors.

*As I said on Twitter, if Christina Hendricks** e-mailed me and asked me to smuggle some drugs for her, I might consider it. (And then, being reminded of the faithful love of my wife and the smiles of my children, I would decide against it.) But first, I would ask myself -- why is Christina Hendricks e-mailing me? 

**perhaps wise not to Google her at work, either. 


  1. I posted about this on my FB page with the caveat that "That's why it's a bad idea for scientists to try to hook up with models".

    A wise commentator qualified this statement with the following quip: "Physicists, anyway. A chemist would have been curious, looked in the package, and gotten all hopped up on blow. Still probably would have ended up in jail, though. After running through all his money with Argentinian hookers." (will be happy to disclose his name if he reads this and accordingly indicates).

  2. This is one more data point that makes it hard for an unemployed PhD. coming from academic life to convince corporate employers that you have common sense, an in-check ego, and can function outside of your university hamlet.
    It must be good to be 68 and get to complain to your boss that you only are making ~$100,000 as stated in the article you link to.

    In some fields (computational chemistry, bioinformatics come to mind), having a professor on a sabbatical overseas isn't an obstacle to advising graduate students as long as you have working internet and access to journals. If the lab is normally informal, it helps to institute a more formal structure while the boss is away (regularly scheduled skype meetings, daily/weekly email reports).

  3. Weldong Xu from Harvard got massively Nigerian scammed about eight years ago.

  4. WRT your Christina Hendricks comment, a family friend once remarked to his wife "You know, if Shania Twain ever asked me to run away with her, I would", to which she calmly replied "If Shania Twain ever comes and asks you, you can go."

  5. Frampton is a little old for this sort of thing. Men usually go off the rails about age 50; e.g., Eliot Spitzer and Bill Clinton, although Wilbur Mills was 65 when his relationship with the Argentine exotic dancer Fanne Foxe came to light.

    Perhaps Frampton can get a guest role on “The Big Bang Theory”.

  6. That's why mandatory retirement is a good thing.