This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Last June, Venezuelan police handcuffed and jailed a Utah man on suspicion of weapons charges. Since then, Josh Holt has spent every day of the last year behind bars in a foreign country, where his family says he is being used as a "political pawn."
Holt, a former missionary with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and a Riverton native, was arrested on June 30, 2016. He had traveled to Venezuela to marry Thamara Caleno, a fellow Mormon he'd met online last January while looking for someone to practice Spanish with.
The two had planned to return to Salt Lake City once Caleno obtained a visa but were arrested soon after returning from their honeymoon on accusations that Holt was a spy and had stockpiled guns and grenades in Caleno's apartment.
Holt's mother, Laurie, insists her son is innocent and says the weapons were planted. She said the last year has been like "a living nightmare" for her and her family made more difficult by limited communication with her son.
"I don't know how he's doing; I don't know what his mindset is right now, which I can't even imagine because it's his one year anniversary," she said. "It's like, 'buddy, we're fighting for you.' I wish that I could tell him that. I wish I could just talk to him, because I can't even put myself in the position that he's in and imagine what he's thinking."
Laurie Holt has spent the last year issuing pleas for help with his release from politicians in Utah's congressional delegation and beyond all the way up to the president.
"I can't get any higher than what I've gotten in our government," Laurie said in an interview with CBS This Morning, which aired Friday. "I literally have reached the top and cannot get any further."
She told The Tribune that Utah's congressional delegation has been "very, very supportive" throughout the last year. Utah Sen. Mike Lee and Reps. Rob Bishop, Chris Stewart and Mia Love issued a joint statement Friday indicating their continued commitment to ensure Josh Holt's release.
"Beloved by many, Mr. Holt has been held unjustly for a year by the Venezuelan government without full legal proceedings and is believed to be suffering from lack of medical care," they wrote. "We as elected officials from Utah are calling attention to his case today and ask for his expeditious release on humanitarian grounds."
Laurie Holt said in September 2016 that her son had a hemorrhoid that was causing bleeding and a respiratory condition. She said in the interview with CBS This Morning that he has dropped more than 50 pounds and is depressed and, at times, suicidal.
In a letter to President Donald Trump, Utah's congressional delegation and Florida Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen urged him to "vigorously pursue [Holt's] safe, unconditional, and swift release."
Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch released a video on social media to express hope that diplomatic efforts would succeed for Josh Holt and his family. A spokesman for Hatch said the senator has been involved throughout the last year, reaching out personally to former Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and working with the State Department and the Venezuelan embassy in an attempt to secure Holt's release.
"It's a devastating anniversary, but an important time to remind Josh and his family that we are still anxiously engaged in the fight for his freedom," Hatch said in his video, adding that civil turmoil in Venezuela had "complicated the fragile diplomatic waters of getting Josh released."
Josh Holt has been held without a hearing in Venezuela since he was arrested last June, and his mother said he still does not have one scheduled. His court hearings had been canceled four times as of December, and the representatives' letter to Trump indicated the government has made "no legitimate attempt" to "convict [Josh] of any recognizable crime."