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Love, Hatch urge Utah man's release from Venezuela jail

RIVERTON — Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, is coming out in support of a Utah man jailed in Venezuela for two months on weapons charges — demanding his release.

Love said in an emailed statement Wednesday that her office is doing everything it can to secure the release of Josh Holt, whose Riverton family lives in her congressional district.

She sent a letter to the State Department in July asking for more information and plans to send another one requesting that Secretary of State John Kerry demand Holt's release.

"As a mother, I would want my representative to make this a priority," said Love, a Republican.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, has also worked to facilitate Holt's release.

Holt, 24, has been jailed since June 30 on suspicion of weapons charges after he traveled to Venezuela to marry a fellow Mormon he met on the internet.

Venezuela authorities contend Holt was using his wife's apartment in Caracas to stockpile weapons and have suggested his case was linked to other unspecified attempts by the U.S. to undermine President Nicolas Maduro's rule amid deep economic and political turbulence.

His mother, Laurie Holt, says she thinks an assault rifle and a grenade found in the apartment of her son's wife were planted. She said she hopes Love's backing spurs more action from the U.S. government.

U.S. diplomats most recently visited Holt in a Caracas prison on Aug. 16. But the U.S. government has avoided ratcheting up public pressure on Venezuela amid already strained relations between two countries that haven't swapped ambassadors since 2010.

State Department spokesman John Kirby said Wednesday in a statement that officials are following the case closely. They brought it to the attention of senior Venezuelan officials and will continue visiting Holt.

In a recent letter from prison, Holt told his mother he has faced police harassment behind bars and is suffering from kidney stones. U.S. officials said last week that there were no signs he had been mistreated in prison.

Holt met his future wife, Theresa Caleno, online while looking for Spanish-speaking Mormons to help him improve his Spanish. Caleno is also jailed as an alleged accomplice.