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Mother of Riverton native imprisoned in Venezuela implores Trump to prioritize his release

FILE: Laurie Holt, mother of Josh Holt, cries during a prayer at a rally the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Saturday, July 30, 2016.
FILE: Laurie Holt, mother of Josh Holt, cries during a prayer at a rally the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Saturday, July 30, 2016.
Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The family of Riverton native Josh Holt is hoping an appeal to new President Donald Trump will lead to government intervention to free him from a Venezuelan prison.

Holt was arrested in June 2016 on allegations that he was hoarding weapons in his apartment in Caracas, Venezuela. His newlywed wife, Theresa Caleno, was also arrested and accused of being an accomplice to Holt.

Holt's family, as well as Sen. Orrin Hatch and Rep. Mia Love, both R-Utah, have criticized the Venezuelan government in connection with the arrests, characterizing them as a political maneuver in a country with a reputation for political turmoil.

Former Secretary of State John Kerry and another U.S. diplomat met with Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro in recent months and talked to him about Holt, the State Department has confirmed.

In a video published Monday on YouTube, Laurie Holt, Josh's mother, criticized the efforts of former President Barack Obama's Cabinet to get her son out of Venezuela.

"I honestly don't believe that Americans in peril have been a priority for this administration," she states in the video.

The video implores Trump to work diligently to secure Josh Holt's release.

"President Trump, my son's only offense was that he was an American citizen," Laurie Holt says in the video. "And I know that you surely agree that being a citizen of this great nation should mean something."

Josh Holt's criminal case has been unreasonably delayed multiple times, his attorney and his family have said, including times when the judge in charge of his case has not shown up to court.

Josh Holt has also suffered from poor conditions behind bars and has become ill, according to his family. His attorney said in November that his kidneys were unhealthy and that he was having breathing problems. He currently suffers with tooth decay and is malnourished, his family said in a prepared statement Monday.

"He has given up," Laurie Holt said. "He now says he would rather die than spend another day there."

Josh Holt's family also said Caleno's two daughters have also been thrust into a miserable situation, "left to the care of others rather than realizing the dream of coming to the United States as a newly completed family."

"Family, friends, including religious and political leaders are praying that President Trump and potentially Secretary (of State Rex) Tillerson will make Josh's immediate return an important priority as he begins his presidency," the family said.