American sues Maduro for trauma after almost two years in prison in Venezuela

MIAMI — A Utah man who was imprisoned for nearly two years in Venezuela sues the dictator Nicolas Maduroaccusing him of leading a “criminal enterprise” that kidnaps, tortures and unjustly imprisons American citizens.

The complaint filed Thursday in federal court in Miami by Joshua Holt It is the latest in a series of lawsuits by Americans against the Maduro regime for its alleged ties to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, which the United States has designated a terrorist group.

It seeks compensation for damages Holt and his family said they suffered under a little-used federal law, the Anti-Terrorism Act, which allows American victims of foreign terrorist groups to seize the assets of their attackers.

Holt, then in his twenties, traveled to Venezuela in 2016 to marry a fellow Mormon she met online while practicing Spanish. Shortly after, the couple was arrested at her family’s apartment in a public housing complex during a raid by law enforcement who said they found him storing an assault weapon and grenades.

A few days later, top officials appeared on state television accusing Holt of being a “CIA terrorist” sent to overthrow Maduro.

Holt, in his 99-page complaint, details how After being arrested he was taken to an abandoned construction site where he was lined up against a wall while what looked like a firing squad pointed their guns at him and shot him..

“It was a mock execution: the weapons were not loaded”, according to the complaint. “Josh thought ‘this is the point where I’m going to die, one of these cops is going to take a bullet.’ “

Holt lost 60 pounds in the first six months of his incarceration. And with almost no medical treatment, he endured kidney stones, bronchitis and a painful broken tooth while he was held in a small, stench-filled cell with no bathroom.

His wife, Thamy Holt, was also imprisoned and repeatedly pressured to sign a confession that her husband was part of a CIA plot, something she never agreed to do.

Finally, in 2018, Holt would be released as a result of clandestine negotiations led by a staff member of Senator Bob Corker, a Republican from Tennessee. who chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee before retiring in 2019. According to the complaint, Holt’s jailer, Gustavo González López, then head of the SEBIN intelligence police, acknowledged the false nature of the charges after the American’s release. .

“I’m sorry you had to go through this,” González López, according to the complaint, told Holt as he personally escorted the American from jail to a waiting plane that would take Holt to freedom and an immediate appointment at the White House. with then-President Donald J. Trump.

The lawsuit seeks damages for the trauma the Holts say they and their loved ones continue to suffer from, including anxiety disorders, insomnia and depression.

Laurie Holt, who led the campaign for her son’s release, died in 2019 at age 50 from heart disease. which his family believes was caused by the long incarceration.

“Unfortunately, the Holts’ escape from Venezuela was not the end of the Holt family’s ordeal,” the complaint says.

Other Americans imprisoned in Venezuela have managed to obtain significant sentences against Maduro and his inner circle on similar legal grounds.

In 2022, a federal judge in Miami awarded $73 million in damages to the family of a prominent Maduro opponent who died in custody after inexplicably falling from the tenth floor of a building belonging to the SEBIN police.

And last year, an exiled Venezuelan lawyer made $153 million after his father’s kidnapping lured him to return to his country, only to end up imprisoned on trumped-up charges of working as a “financial terrorist” undermining the Maduro regime. .

As in previous cases, Holt in his lawsuit accused Maduro of controlling the “Cartel of the Suns,” an alleged drug smuggling network involving senior Venezuelan officials and FARC guerrillas. and that supposedly sends 200 metric tons of cocaine from Venezuela to the United States each year.

But collecting those big rewards has proven daunting. Maduro or any of his close collaborators are not known to have property or bank accounts in the United States in his name. Any wealth officials have stolen is more likely to be in the hands of myriad front men whose assets are difficult to trace and confiscate.

“These allied countries that participate in massive criminal enterprises are black belts in hiding their money”said Sam Dubbin, a Miami attorney who has represented Cuban doctors seeking justice for forced labor by the island’s communist regime.

One of Maduro’s front men, the Colombian businessman Alex Saabis a defendant in Holt’s lawsuit. According to the complaint, Saab’s 2020 arrest in Cape Verde on a U.S. warrant for money laundering led “Maduro’s criminal enterprise” to begin a campaign to arrest even more Americans to use as “bargaining chips” to negotiate. his release.

Last year, Biden pardoned Saab as part of a swap for 10 Americans and a fugitive Pentagon contractor imprisoned in Venezuela. Maduro insists that Saab was a Venezuelan diplomat illegally detained during a fuel stop en route to Iran to buy food and medicine that were in short supply under US sanctions.

Among the six other Maduro loyalists named as allegedly responsible for Holt’s imprisonment are Venezuela’s chief prosecutor, the commander of the armed forces and the president of the Supreme Court.