A Bloomington mother is pleading with the US government to help bring her son home from a prison in Venezuela. She says he was supposed to be released in November from the politically-unstable country, but hasn’t. As Indiana Public Broadcasting’s Barbara Brosher reports, he’s been in prison there for nearly five years.
Todd Leininger traveled to the country in 2014 with his Venezuelan wife to visit family.
“I actually kind of discouraged them from going because I had read that there was a lot of unrest in the country,” says Todd’s mother Barbara.
Shortly after arriving in the country, police arrested Todd on charges of attempted murder and arms trafficking. They raided the house where he was staying and claimed they found several weapons. They also arrested Todd’s wife. Barbara says her son insists the government’s account of what happened isn’t true, but there was an altercation at some point.
Venezuelan officials eventually dismissed the terrorism charges and instead charged Todd with attempted homicide and concealment of a firearm. A State Department spokesperson says a Venezuelan court ordered Todd to be released on Nov. 5. But that didn’t happen.
“The day he was supposed to walk out of that prison, the Venezuelan government blocked his release,” she says. “And, it’s entirely because he’s an American citizen.”
The ongoing conflict over political power in the country complicates the situation. Barbara says she thinks Venezuela is holding on to her son as a bargaining chip.
“They’re holding him hostage is what it amounts to,” she says. “He is a hostage there, there’s no legal reason to keep him there.”
The State Department pulled all U.S. diplomats from the country earlier this month. Barbara says that means no one is there to check on Todd, and prison officials are no longer letting her attorney take him extra food.
She recently joined Twitter in an attempt to reach out to those who could help secure her son’s release.
@realDonaldTrump Hello President Trump! I’m am the mother of Todd Leininger who is still being held unjustly in a Venezuelan prison. I am begging for your help. Please get my son home before it’s too late!
— Barbara Leininger (@BarbaraLeining1) March 15, 2019
She’s also reached out to Rep. Trey Hollingsworth and Senator Todd Young for help. A representative from Hollingsworth’s office says he’s met with Barbara multiple times and his office has been in touch with the State Department.
And a spokesperson for Young says in a statement the senator’s been in regular contact with the Leininger family.
“Todd’s health and safety conintue to be the senator’s top priority,” the statement says. “He will continue working with the State Department to explore all possibilities to ensure Todd’s return to the U.S.”
Barbara says Todd’s physical and mental state is deteriorating, so getting him home is urgent. She just doesn’t know what it will take.
“I’m just a mom that wants her son home,” she says.
A State Department spokesperson says they’re concerned prison officials are prohibiting food deliveries and denying comunication. The U.S. is working with other countries to ensure Todd’s welfare while its operations in Venezuela are temporarily suspended.