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Houston-area Navy veteran locked up in Thai prison, despite cries for help

Derrick Keller was arrested on Aug. 20, 2018. But his family says the allegations against him are not true and they desperately want him home.

A Navy veteran from Greater Houston is locked up in a Thai prison for something his family says he didn’t do.

Derrick Keller’s family doesn’t know what to do next after their cries for help from politicians and lawyers have gone unanswered. They fear if something doesn’t happen fast Keller could spend the rest of his life in a Thai prison.

Derrick Keller, 44, is from Richmond, Texas. He is a son, a husband, a father to two kids and a Navy veteran.

“He just felt that was his duty to serve the country,” his father, Dana Keller, explained.

His family smiled as they explained what Keller means to them.

“He was always a jokester,” his father said. “Always liked to make people laugh.”

“He’s full of life,” his mother Debra added.

“He’s the best man I’ve ever known,” said his 19-year-old son Mark Keller.

But Derrick Keller is nowhere near family or country right now; he is more than 9,000 miles away behind bars at Klong Prem Prison in Bangkok, Thailand.

“We are still in shock,” said Debra. “We still can’t fathom what’s taking place”

In 2015 Keller and his wife Tanya moved to China with their children. Tanya was offered a job she couldn’t pass up as the lead dance instructor at Shenzhen Dance Academy.

Derrick gave up his trucking company in East Bernard and worked odd jobs in China. He tended bar, coached a baseball team and perused acting, a childhood passion.

In 2016 family says a recruiter reached out to him about a company looking for a “Western face.” It was called Eagle Gates Group Co. Ltd.

“The company was represented as completely legit,” his brother-in-law Ryan Murray explained. “Totally legal. It would just be an acting opportunity.”

Over six months, Keller acted in several corporate videos. His family says he was paid $15,000 to do so. After the job was complete, he told family he never heard from the company again, until a vacation to Thailand last August.

Keller was arrested after he and his wife landed in Bangkok for a vacation.  

“They got off the plane and had a lot of Thailand police officers waiting for them,” Murray explained.

Thai media reported his arrest and claimed he was part of a Ponzi scheme which defrauded investors of millions of dollars.

“I think at first they thought it was just a misunderstanding,” Murray said. “And it turned out to be something much worse.”

Keller was arrested on Aug. 20, 2018. One day later he called his father to tell him he was being detained.

“That’s the last I’ve heard from him,” his dad said through tears. “That’s the last time I heard his voice. Been bad. Horrible. Absolutely horrible. I mean, like I said, I haven’t heard him. God knows I love my son.”

No family member has seen or talked to Keller since he has been in prison.

“I’m always scared that I’m just going to wake up to the worst information I’ve ever heard,” cried his son, Mark. “That something beyond horrific about this has happened to my dad like maybe he’s died in incarceration or something. It’s the uncertainty that really kills me.”

Klong Prem Prison is a maximum-security facility.

“The prison that he’s in is notorious for human rights violations,” Murray explained. “There’s a lot of bribery. It’s very corrupt. [He’s] sleeping on concrete, sharing a cell with 50 other people.”

Missionaries tell family he’s lost 70 pounds in 10 months.

The family says they’ve provided proof that Derrick is innocent and was simply an actor in a corporate video. They claim they’ve reached out to President Trump, Senator Ted Cruz, Senator John Cornyn and a long list of other local politicians but haven’t been offered any help.

“The country called… he answered,” said his father, a Vietnam veteran. “When the country called… I answered. And now we call and we don’t get an answer.”

Derrick Keller’s trial date is set for July. He’s facing 35 years in prison.

“The court itself, from what we’ve been able to find out from lawyers and our own research, has a 95% conviction rate," Murray said. "We’ve been told that if he admits guilt they will be easier on him and that it’s not worth fighting against. Derrick is a man of integrity… I do not see him admitting to a crime he didn’t commit so that has me worried.”

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