Romanian princess pleads not guilty in Oregon cockfighting case
Princess Irina Walker, the daughter of the last king of Romania, and her husband, a former sheriff’s deputy, face federal charges of running a cockfighting business on their ranch in rural Oregon. Both pleaded not guilty Friday.
The Associated Press
PORTLAND — Princess Irina Walker, the daughter of the last king of Romania, was hobnobbing two years ago with European royalty in Bucharest to celebrate the 90th birthday of her regal father.
Now she and her husband, a former sheriff’s deputy, face federal charges of running a cockfighting business on their ranch in rural Eastern Oregon. Both pleaded not guilty Friday and were released pending trial.
Government prosecutors say Irina and John Walker staged at least 10 cockfighting derbies between April 2012 and April 2013, bringing in as much as $2,000 a day. Blades were attached to the birds’ legs, spectators were charged admission, and food and drink were sold, the indictment said.
Prosecutors also say 24 marijuana plants, 24 guns and a large amount of ammunition were found during last week’s raid. No charges have been filed in connection with that discovery.
Irina Walker, 60, is the third daughter of former Romanian King Michael I. Michael, now 91 and one of the few surviving heads of state from World War II, was forced to abdicate by the communists in 1947. Sent into exile, he lived in Switzerland and worked as a commercial pilot and briefly as a chicken farmer.
According to a statement on the royal family’s website, King Michael expressed “deep sorrow” about Princess Irina being arrested and hopes that the American justice system and Oregon courts will act as quickly as possible. He did not mention his son-in-law and added that he hopes the presumption of innocence will function.
The Walkers are charged with operating an illegal gambling business and conspiracy to violate the federal Animal Welfare Act. Each of the offenses carries a maximum possible sentence of five years in prison and a fine of $250,000. Federal prosecutors are seeking forfeiture of the ranch.
Authorities arrested 16 other people in the case.
Irina Walker moved to the U.S. from Switzerland in 1983 with her then-husband, John Kreuger, according to her daughter, Angelica Kreuger, of Myrtle Point, Ore. She said her parents were school friends in Europe and her father fell in love with Oregon.
Angelica Kreuger said her mother is proud of her heritage — she keeps a large picture of her father in the living room — but never lived a lavish lifestyle. As for herself, Kreuger said being the child of a princess only got her picked on in school.
“We tried to live as normal as possible around here,” she said. “Then you go over to Europe and that’s sort of like all fancy.”
Never a particularly social person, Irina Walker rode horses, gardened, studied the Bible and raised two children while living in Myrtle Point. She later divorced. In 2007, she married a man who had been a family friend and neighbor — former Coos County sheriff’s deputy John Walker.
Angelica Kreuger said John Walker took her mother to the Hermiston area in Eastern Oregon.
“She kind of turned hippie,” Angelica Kreuger said. “From when we were growing up to when she moved to Hermiston, she just kind of did the whole free-spirit thing. She just wanted to wake up in the morning and tend to her goats and mess with her horses.”
Kreuger said her mother became isolated from the family and the two have not spoken in a couple months. Her mother visited Myrtle Point earlier this year and Kreuger sensed something was wrong.
She said she had warned her mother about John Walker, whom she called “bad news,” but her mother didn’t want to believe it. She said he made her mother feel beautiful and special, and her mother would do anything he said.
“My mom’s kind of naive, that’s the easiest way to put it,” Kreuger said. “She doesn’t really know the bad side of people.”
Kreuger said she has been to the Hermiston area a couple times and never saw a fighting chicken. She doesn’t believe her mother knew the full extent of what was allegedly going on, and wouldn’t have gotten caught up in such a thing if she had known the potential for a jail sentence.
“I don’t see her being there watching it, because my mom loved animals,” Kreuger said. “She wouldn’t want to watch a chicken die like that.”
Irina Walker was calm in court on Friday, dressed in jail blues. However, court-appointed defense attorney Patrick Ehlers said his client was “hysterical” when he spoke with her behind bars in the morning. Ehlers said Irina Walker’s relatives were arranging money for her to retain a defense lawyer.
Judge John V. Acosta allowed her to return home until trial, tentatively scheduled for October.
Prosecutors warned that Irina Walker is a flight risk because she was born in Switzerland and could be granted asylum in that country.
Acosta ordered her to surrender her passport and told her not to leave her home county, except to go to nearby Hermiston for groceries and doctor appointments.
“Don’t stop at a greeting-card store; don’t go to the movies,” he warned.
The princess is to receive an electronic-monitoring bracelet on Monday.