Lack of judges leads to backlog in Cuban travel cases

WASHINGTON -- Nine years after Congress granted the right to civil hearings for people accused of violating the Cuba travel ban, no judges have been hired and no hearings have been held.

As of September, 357 cases were pending, some of which date to 1995, said a congressional aide.

Piano tuner Ben Treuhaft, for example, has waited for his day in court since being accused in 1996 of illegally traveling to the communist island.

The Treasury Department, which oversees the ban, did not respond to repeated requests for details about the backlog or how many cases have been resolved without hearings.

The department said its Office of Foreign Assets Control is trying to resolve the problem, but its efforts have been set back since the terrorist attacks.

In addition to enforcing embargoes, the office has a leading role in tracing terrorists' assets.

Treasury spokesman Tony Fratto said the terrorist attacks "clearly slowed down this process" of addressing the backlog but "we are confident that a workable, cost-effective procedure will be put in place to address this issue."

Most of those awaiting hearings are not complaining about the delay. People who negotiated settlements have paid fines averaging $7,500, while Treuhaft and others in his situation have not paid a cent.

"There haven't been people pounding on OFAC's door saying they want a hearing," said Tom Miller, Treuhaft's attorney.