Particle Theorist in Argentine Jail

Particle theorist Paul Frampton of the University of North Carolina was arrested in Buenos Aires January 23rd on charges of attempting to smuggle two kilos of cocaine out of the country. He denies the charges, but is in jail in Argentina, and UNC has suspended his pay since he could not return to teach his spring semester class. More about this here.

I don’t know Frampton personally, but he has commented on the blog here in the past, and is well-known in the particle theory community. He is the author of a standard textbook in the subject Gauge Field Theories.

Update: From reports with more information, like this one, it seems clear that Frampton was the victim of a scam. Hopefully friends and colleagues will be able to help him regain his freedom.

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58 Responses to Particle Theorist in Argentine Jail

  1. Bernhard says:

    This is a complete absurd, it is more than obvious that this was someone framing Frampton. What is extremely concerning is the attitude of the North Carolina University which is doing absolutely nothing to help him, as one can read here:

  2. UNCgrad says:

    While I am sure that Dr. Frampton did not know about the cocaine in his luggage, I am annoyed that people like Bernhard are getting the wrong idea about this story. Since the faculty is under orders to respond with “no comment” and no graduate students have been interviewed that are not dependent on Frampton for funding/advising, the articles about this case have pretty much presented Frampton’s viewpoint unchallenged. The truth is that the University HAS helped Frampton as much as could be reasonably expected. I know for a fact that it was arranged to have money sent down to Frampton, and that an associate dean of the university spoke with a judge in Buenos Aires to try to get Frampton out.

    [rest of comment deleted. Please, anonymous personal attacks not welcome here]

  3. Another UNCgrad says:

    I don’t think I am qualified to comment on the quality of Dr. Frampton’s professional work, but on a personal level he was not well liked by many graduate students (and some, if not most, faculty) in the department. There were several who were quite pleased with the prospect that Dr. Frampton might not be returning to teach in the fall (or ever). If there are more comments from grad students at UNC it will be hard to find some that do not include “anonymous personal attacks”.

    This is a difficult situation since it places his two graduate students in a tough spot. It also has the possibility to make the department look bad, even if they really did do all they can do. From the news articles it seems that the decision to stop Dr. Frampton’s pay was taken on the university level, and not at the departmental level. I think for many of the faculty they really don’t know how to respond to this one way or the other. Consider this, how would your department and university respond if this happened to a noted professor in the department?

  4. Trulo says:

    From the link:

    “I have never been in prison before, so I have no way of making an accurate comparison,” he said.

    This statement seems to be inaccurate, according to this link

  5. Trulo says:

    From the link:

    “I have never been in prison before, so I have no way of making an accurate comparison,” he said.

    That statement seems to be inaccurate, according to this other link here

  6. Trulo says:

    In any case, and regardless any mistakes he may or may not have made, I hope he’ll be released as soon as possible. If he was arrested on Jan. 23, as the article says, he’s been in Hell for two months already. That’s terribly bad. I wish him good luck.

  7. Interested Observer says:

    It has been obvious for quite some time that Frampton has been losing his grip on reality. For example, he devotes quite some time in his paper arXiv:1004.1910 to argue why he has accomplished more than Isaac Newton. The argument appears to be serious and does not seem to have been made in jest.

    It appears likely that someone tricked him into carrying something in his luggage and his warning bells probably did not go off owing to his diminishing grip on reality.

  8. Yet another UNC Grad says:

    Firstly, I would like to address the “discontinuation of pay” concerns, which should be called “unpaid leave”. UNC is a public institution, funded by taxpayer dollars. If the governor, the legislature, the people learn that UNC is paying $100K/year to someone is in an Argentinian jail awaiting trial for drug trafficking, is it unreasonable to believe that Chancellor Thorp will be dragged through every oversight committee in the UNC system? Is it unreasonable to believe that the legislature might cite such incident in its decision to further decrease UNC’s funding? Is it unreasonable to think that Chancellor Thorp will be forced to resign if Dr. Frampton is found guilty? How can UNC justify keeping on staff and paying someone who is accused of smuggling cocaine, is abroad for an undetermined amount of time, and cannot explain the purpose of his trip? If he was on an official UNC business or a conference, that would be another matter. The University chose to act this way to minimize the damage to its reputation and funding. I believe it is a correct thing to do.

    Secondly, addressing “UNC does nothing to help him” assertions. Again, UNC is a public institution. To accuse it of not helping him is the same as to accuse The State Department of not helping him. UNC must maintain neutrality in much the same way The State Department must.

    I agree with the first UNCgrad: I see not a single interview with the staff, graduate students, former faculty, etc. The only comments are form Dr. Frampton, his former wife, friends, and a graduate student whose career currently depends on Dr. Frampton. Many former and current graduate students are willing to speak on condition of anonymity, and a few will put their name on their words.

  9. Yet another UNC Grad says:

    It would be nice if the media obtained the police report.

  10. abbyyorker says:

    He’s been in the field for many years. Cant some of his friends/colleagues fly down there to help?

  11. Steve says:

    Innocent until proven guilty of course but why would drug smugglers stuff cocaine into a random tourist’s luggage if they could not collect it States side? And what was he doing down there anyway on a private trip? It’s not looking good for him esp. with his money cut off, and their courts and criminal justice system don’t have the rigor and efficiency of their US equivalent. Section 3 of Arxiv/1004.1910 where he talks about his brilliance as a student, and claims to be smarter than Newton, actually does look like it was written by someone “coked up” or someone who is losing it. If he is innocent then I do hope it all gets sorted out. Unfortunately, sh–t sticks, even If one is exonerated and proved innocent. Someone that smart is simply not expected to get themselves into a horrendous mess like that. Whenever you lose your integrity and reputation in high professional circles you are finished.

  12. Interested Observer says:

    From what I understand (through a somewhat informed source), Frampton was in Argentina to meet a “model”. And apparently she asked him to take one of her bags back with him to the US. One can speculate why a “model” might want to meet with a 68 year old physicist earning only about a $100k a year, but she may have been impressed by his physics accomplishments that have surely dwarfed Newton.

  13. A.J. says:


    Trashing someone’s reputation is a public forum — when that person is in jail in a foreign country and likely unable to respond — and then saying that they should be expected to protect themselves or they might lose their reputation…. Does this not induce cognitive dissonance?

  14. Yatima says:

    More seriously, why should anyone object about someone else carrying cocaine or not?

    Oh wait, we are in the era of the “War on Drugs” psychosis created by a state employees looking for politically easy enemies to justify their paychecks.

    Ok, carry on, then.

  15. Steve says:

    A. J. You misinterpret me. I much respect the prof and his achievements. It is not a personal attack and whether someone takes/uses/smuggles cocaine is not something I judge. It is their decision but there very are serious consequences to that esp. abroad. I’m not even saying he did that. But I’m looking at it purely from the point of view of how the law, the legal/justice process, and the media will see it. Law, like science, goes on the weight of evidence and it does not look good unless some good defense lawyer(s) has some good evidence to clear him. UNC are cutting themselves off from him, or so it seems so how does he pay for that? He is in a very serious legal situation. And I’m afraid sh-t does stick as far as reputation goes. Any enemies he does have–certainly not me, I don’t know him–will use it. It’s not right but that’s how it goes.

  16. Steve says:

    Let me say I think this is a horrible situation I would not wish on anyone, and I really hope it gets sorted out for him and he can return home.

  17. anton nymos says:

    >> he talks about his brilliance as a student, and claims to be smarter than Newton,
    >> actually does look like it was written by someone “coked up” or someone who is
    >> losing it

    this sounds just like e.g. Lubos Motl and some others, it seems to be a string theorist thing so I would not hold it against Prof. Frampton.

  18. Anonyrat says:

    Let’s quote fom 1004.1910 since others have mentioned it:

    It would be a wonderful to have lunch, may be at L’Atelier de Jo ̈el Robuchon in Roppongi Hills, with Murray Gell-Mann, Isaac Newton, and Grigori Perelman to compare notes on personal fulfillment. What does Grigori Perelman mean, when he tells journalist, in turning down a million dollars, I have all I want. I’m not interested in money or fame? This seems to baffle some americans, whose idea of happiness, as an inalienable right, is a three-comma net worth. Yet, a two-comma net worth suffices, for all practical purposes.

    Fame can hardly exceed that of the singer and entertainer, Elvis Presley (1935-1977), whose name, from my non-scientific studies in public transportation, is still recognizable by one billion people. He died, when he was only fourty-two, so his fame was not very useful.

    —– speaks to lack of motive.

  19. Peter Woit says:

    anton nymos,

    The conviction that one is smarter than everyone else isn’t exactly unusual in academia, not just among string theorists. It’s also the kind of delusion that can make a good target for a scam, which is what may have happened here.

  20. Anonyrat says:

    UK Telegraph


    But respected Argentine newspaper Clarin reported he has told investigators he was set up after flying to the country to meet a woman he been romancing over the Internet.

    He is said to have made a statement to investigating judge Juan Galvan Grenway after initially refusing to answer questions.

    He claimed in his statement, leaked to the Argentine press: “The reason for my trip to south America was to meet a female friend, who is a well-known model, but I wasn’t able to meet her.

    “I believe my friend’s representative, who was the one who gave me the flight tickets, is probably the person responsible for the drugs found in the suitcase.”

    Mr Frampton, who arrived in Argentina on January 21 from Bolivia, says he agreed to check the suitcase in on his return flight to the States on the understanding it belonged to his friend.

    Investigators who confirmed his prison remand order last week justified their decision saying: “It is improbable and it wouldn’t be likely that a 68-year-old man with a solid university education, has come to the country to meet up with a female friend, and despite not having had contact with her, has agreed to carry a suitcase apparently belonging to her with him.”

    University friends of Mr Frampton are now fighting to get him freed from prison while the investigation into his alleged wrongdoing continues.

    Former colleague David Stallard said: “I knew Paul professionally and socially for 17 years.

    “He never showed any interest in drugs and it is inconceivable to me that he intentionally smuggled cocaine. He must have been duped.

    “I fervently hope that he will be exonerated and then reinstated in his university.”

    Retired lawyer John Bird, a former neighbour of Mr Frampton, said: “There’s no-one in the world more improbable who would smuggle cocaine.

    “He got set up. I would bet my life on it. It would be contrary to everything in his background.”

    End quote.

  21. Bernhard says:

    “It is improbable and it wouldn’t be likely that a 68-year-old man with a solid university education, has come to the country to meet up with a female friend, and despite not having had contact with her, has agreed to carry a suitcase apparently belonging to her with him.”

    And how probable it is that “a 68-year-old man with a solid university education, has come to the country” to smug cocaine? Really.

  22. Bernhard says:


  23. Anonyrat says:

    This page in Spanish from is relevant.

    The google translation of an excerpt:

    “For starters, Frampton is a recognized and respected theoretical physicist, professor at the American University of North Carolina, who even signed several papers with Nobel laureate Sheldon Glashow (see worked …). But also, as he explained in his defense, the suitcase with the cocaine would come into his possession as a last step in a long series of deceptions of those who says he was victim: a woman who posed as a model contacted him via the Internet with the months came to him love, and he was following his trail to meet her in person to get to South America.

    So far, his alibi for Justice is unlikely. So Frampton-prisoner for two months in the prison of Devoto-and has a preventive imprisonment pending trial (more than 1,350,000 pesos in foreclosure), confirmed by the Hall B of the House Economic Criminal.

    The funny thing is that your story is strikingly similar to that made at the time Sharon Mae Armstrong (54), a former official of the Government of New Zealand Maori-language expert, who was arrested at Ezeiza the April 13, 2011 with 5 kilos of cocaine in his suitcase when he went to take a flight to Spain.

    In the case of Armstrong, but ended up being convicted, the Court took it for granted that he had been deceived by a man who fell in love via the Internet, offered her marriage and, with an excuse, made ​​travel to Argentina with the promise that after would meet in London to meet in person. Because judges believed in her story, Sharon was imposed almost the minimum penalty for the crime of drug smuggling (see The Case of New Zealand). ”

    Looking up Sharon Mae Armstrong, whose story is similar to Frampton’s

    She’s been in jail since April 13, 2011. Her not guilty plea was entertained Nov 10, 2011.

    Quote: “Mr Piripi said advisers warned her to plead guilty, as “with her circumstances and mitigating factors she might get three years”.

    “But she just could not plead guilty, she couldn’t, which means she’s looking at two to three years waiting for a trial and absolutely no leniency if convicted,” he said.”

    —– If Professor Frampton’s case follows the same course, things don’t look good.

  24. Anonyrat says:

    This last – I hope I am not abusing our host’s hospitality –

    on Sharon Mae Armstrong –


    “The courts will assess her innocence said Claudio Izaguirre, president of the Argentine Anti-Drugs Association, a non-governmental group in Buenos Aires.

    “It depends on the judge’s mood, the attorney’s mood, her personal background, her previous lifestyle. Quite a few things will have to be evaluated,” he said. “But the reality is she was trying to leave the country with five kilos of cocaine.””

  25. Trulo says:

    And how probable it is that “a 68-year-old man with a solid university education, has come to the country” to smug cocaine? Really.

    It could be very plausible, if the man in question is a cocaine user, and it is cheaper and of higher purity in that country than in the US. As an example of a mature man with a solid university education who was known to be a consuetudinary cocaine user you can take Sigmund Freud.

    To be sure, I have no idea whether Prof. Frampton was duped as he says or not. But his story seems to be so weak from a legal point of view. If that’s all he has to say in his defense, he will probably be found guilty and given a term in prison, hopefully the minimum. Which, by the time he is sentenced, he will have probably already served.

    A very sad story, indeed.

  26. Anonyrat says:

    viXra log weighs in:

    “Everyone passing through international airports will know that they must pack their own bags and be responsible for the contents. Travellers are continually warned and asked about it. It is easy to be befriended especially in honeypot traps. The details of how Frampton may have been tricked are not yet known but similar stories are well-known. Cases have even been turned into films such as Bangkok Hilton. It will be hard for an intelligent professor to persuade his prosecutors that he was naive enough to innocently accept to use a suitcase with cocaine stuffed into the padding. We wish him luck.”

  27. Bernhard says:


    it is however even more plausible that he got himself involved in a scam, which the authorities are contesting the plausibility of. If the story Frampton is telling sounds unconvincing, the alternative that he is lying and was indeed smuggling drugs seems to be worse, at least to me.

  28. Trulo says:

    Bernhard, Prof. Frampton was caught in the act of committing a crime. As far as I understand the legal system, which is not much, the fact that he was unaware of what he was doing may constitute a mitigating circumstance, if the judge believes him, but it cannot exonerate him. Mitigating circumstances can help reduce the term he is sentenced to serve. But trying to go across an international border with a significant amount of an illegal drug is legally a serious crime, regardless of what you and I think about it, and I’m afraid even the minimum could be a few years. Let’s hope I’m wrong.

  29. Bernhard says:

    I unfortunately agree with you about this.

  30. Peter Woit says:


    I’m no more of a lawyer than you are, but I’d guess that not suspecting at all about the cocaine would be not just a mitigating factor, but would make one innocent of the crime. Unfortunately for Frampton, he may have trouble convincing the authorities of this, and they may want to make an example of people caught up in drug smuggling, even if they are the victim of a scam.

  31. Trulo says:

    you may be right, but I doubt it. If that were true, then carrying bags and boxes full of stolen paintings, fake dollar bills, and even military-grade plutonium through international borders would be a trivial matter: It would just require a temporary suspension of disbelief. As long as you don’t suspect anything you’d be innocent.

  32. Bugsy says:

    From what everyone says, he’s probably the victim of a scam. But if they were clever,
    it might be very hard for him to identify them; and if he could- well, I suppose his life might be in danger.

    It reminds me of the famous Nigerian email scams-
    which nearly sucked in a friend of mine- a very smart guy who fits the profile (the overconfidence of arrogance). Finally he swallowed hard and called the FBI and told them all; it must have been embarrassing to admit how stupid he had been, and also frightening thinking he might be in trouble for the various small, embarrassing or illegal things they had got him to do along the way. In fact
    they just gave him sound advice (under NO circumstances meet with them; lives have been lost, these people can be very dangerous) and didn’t blame him at all.

    BUT…what was he doing in Bolivia before that, which is more or less cocaine central?

  33. paleface says:

    Imagine that a Colombian physicist tried to enter the US through La Guardia Airport with a suitcased loaded with four pounds of cleverly concealed cocaine. And imagine that, once caught, he would declare that he was the innocent victim of a scammer taking advantage of the fact that he was madly in love with Britney Spears. I wonder if anyone would believe him. And I wonder how the US judiciary system would react to that. Would they try to use him to set an example? Or would they just apply the law?

  34. Bernhard says:


    if this Colombian physicist were a 68 year old world renowned theorist with a extreme solid career in Academia and no record of involvement with illicit drugs and complete lack of motive to out of the blue start smuggling cocaine, I believe they could believe him. Needles to say he would still be in a lot of trouble as Frampton unfortunately also is.

  35. Bernhard says:

    What surprises me is that, so far, I believe the HEP community is not yet very much engaged in helping him. There was a dedicated conference in his honor in 2003 (his 60th´s birthday) where Nobel prize´s like G Hooft attended. I hope that it is only that I am not yet aware of the efforts as I cannot believe the majority of these people can think Frampton is really guilty. See for example:

    And what is even more curious is that the banquet photos are suddenly unavailable…

  36. Interested Observer says:

    The difficulty with the law is that once they do something stupid, such as sentence the unfortunate Sharon Armstrong to prison even after accepting her version of events, they have to continue doing that same stupid thing. Otherwise they risk appearing stupid by reversing course on their previous stupid action. This is unfortunate fact about the law, where precedence has more traction than reason, is endemic to many legal systems. While not a lawyer myself, I suspect that if Frampton’s lawyers pursued the theory that he was tricked by this model’s agent, he would find himself in prison for sometime (with perhaps some allowance made for his ill health).

    In my opinion, they ought to pursue the claim that Frampton is mentally incompetent . This will at least give the Argentinian Judiciary a legal excuse to allow them to set him free without establishing a legal precedence that they will be uncomfortable with. And in fact, considering many of Frampton’s recent actions, his mental incompetence can be plausibly argued.

  37. Steve says:

    Peter, I appreciate this is a touchy subject, that deletions are justified, and I won’t attempt to post any more opinions . However, the following news story this week about an extradition block of a UK citizen to Argentina on drug charges, on the grounds that her human rights would be violated, is very relevant. He therefore may be refused bail. Also, the political situation between the UK and Argentina is unfortunately bad and he is firstly a UK citizen. I am hoping he gets a fair and unbiased hearing/trial and humane/respectful treatment even if sentenced, and the rest of the community should at least insist on that too.

  38. Mike Vaughn says:

    Bernhard :”What surprises me is that, so far, I believe the HEP community is not yet very much engaged in helping him.” Since the story has become public only since March 21, as nearly as I can tell, I wonder what Bernhard thinks the HEP community is supposed to do? We cannot organize a SEAL team to go to Argentina and free him. According to published reports, he has legal counsel and seems to be confident that he will emerge in due course . He may not be fully aware of the deliberate pace of Argentine justice (not that American justice is exactly speedy). I certainly hope the matter can be cleared up soon, but the issue is not political and we should not try to make it so.

    I send him my best wishes.

  39. paleface says:

    The very similar case of Sharon Armstrong reported at the end of that Telegraph article looks like a very bad precedent. Left to his own means, Prof. Frampton would probably end up in the same situation as Armstrong. Let’s hope the most influential academics in the US are trying to get their government to support Prof. Frampton at high diplomatic levels.

  40. BJM says:

    The Professor was carrying a bag given to him by a stranger. A definite no-no and specifically screened for by questioning in airports. The results could have been much worse than just a drug bust of one person.

  41. Trulo says:

    From the Telegraph article linked to in the update, referring to Sharon Armstrong,

    Judges convicted her despite accepting her claim she had been duped by a man she met over the Internet.

    This is exactly what I meant in my posts above. If you try to board a plane carrying illegal stuff and you get caught, you’re roast. If you are technically innocent because you didn’t know about the stuff, then you’re tender roast, but roast nonetheless.

    Having ten million academic citations will help you about as much as having a cat named “Fuzz”. Now, having friends very high up in government will make things extremely smooth. If Hillary took an interest in the case, Prof. Frampton would be out for lunch with the judge in no time, eating the best barbecue money can buy in Buenos Aires, all expenses paid by the court.

  42. AnotherUNCer says:

    [From a UNC student, first part removed. I’ve had all too many experiences with character assassination by anonymous comment to not be sensitive to why it’s a really bad idea to allow it on blogs. Please keep this is mind.]

    My friends and I figured that he was taken in by a sex-related scam well before Prof. Frampton’s defense became public. We came to that conclusion based on several factors. Number one, regardless of whether or not one considers Paul Frampton to be a good physicist, it is hard to deny that he happens to be a singularly clueless individual when it comes to street smarts and common sense. The idea that he could somehow get involved in cocaine smuggling seemed ludicrous for the simple reason that he appears to lack the wherewithal. Secondly, Prof. Frampton’s relationship to the opposite sex is well known within the department, and the idea that he could be taken advantage of in this way is, sadly, almost overwhelmingly reasonable.

    All in all, I would say that while none of us wish this upon Prof. Frampton, few of us are surprised that it happened.

  43. Chris Oakley says:

    From Prof. Frampton’s web site:

    The three most important exams were one in 1954 and two in 1961.
    In 1954 I sat for the 11+ exam and achieved the highest mark out
    of 250,000.
    In Spring 1961, I sat for GCE A-level exams and received the
    highest A-level marks ever at King Charles I School.

    He is going to bring the British educational system into disrepute.

  44. Anonyrat says:

    A. Is Professor Frampton an American citizen?
    B. If yes, will there not be approachable high level members in the US government who can be approached for help?
    C. Can some big name physicist or other academic start the ball rolling?

  45. Bernhard says:


    “I wonder what Bernhard thinks the HEP community is supposed to do?”

    I agree with you that the news came not so long ago but public opinion in his favor specially from powerful friends could have an effect in his favor. So far, I have seen only mild explicit declarations to support him which indicates either they don´t want to get involved with it or believe he might be actually guilty. It is also possible they just did not have time to act, but time is passing…

  46. Visitor says:

    “Now, having friends very high up in government will make things extremely smooth. “If Hillary took an interest in the case, Prof. Frampton would be out for lunch with the judge in no time, eating the best barbecue money can buy in Buenos Aires, all expenses paid by the court.”

    Not necessarily. While I might not know the specifics, it is possible to imagine a situation in which Argentine public opinion reacts negatively to American political interference in a judicial process involving an American who, wittingly or unwittingly, _was_ carrying two kilograms of narcotics. And an upshot of this might be, not that Frampton would be liberated, but that he would received a harsher sentence than he might otherwise have received.

  47. Martin says:

    There is an article in an argentinian newspaper. The comments that people are making about the professor are quite bad. I even read someone saying “He should go to jail because he is british”. The Falkland/Malvinas thing will only make things worse.

    I’m sure he didn’t mean to do this and I hope he is released as soon as possible.

    Here is the link of the article if any of you wants to check it out:

  48. Bernhard says:

    It´s good to see that he is anyway still very positive:

    “Frampton said he will likely leave prison in a week thanks to evidence in his favor, though he will still be detained in Argentina.”

    Hope he is right…

  49. Mike Vaughn says:


    This not a political case where public posturing might be helpful. It is a case that appears highly likely to be a setup, and quiet work through the Argentine legal system seems to be the best course to follow. Some of the stories suggest that such work is going on and we can only hope that it will be effective.

  50. Bernhard says:


    I still have my doubts about this, but perhaps you are right and I really hope you are. To a certain degree my reaction is also driven by the frustration I feel when I hear the comments from the Argentinian investigators (“It is improbable and it wouldn’t be likely that a 68-year-old man with a solid university education, has come to the country to meet up with a female friend, and despite not having had contact with her, has agreed to carry a suitcase apparently belonging to her with him.”). It is clear to from this statement they do not yet understand how actually probable this is. Understanding Frampton´s character and position, I would think, could help them with this. But again, I might be wrong and political interference might have a negative impact on the whole case and I certainly don’t want that. So, in the end I agree with you we should wait for the moment and let the case follow its course.

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