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State Department calls for Utah man's release from Venezuelan jail

SALT LAKE CITY — The U.S. government has issued another call for the humanitarian release of a former Mormon missionary and Utahn whose health has declined since he was jailed in Venezuela last year.

Authorities in the South American nation arrested Josh Holt, 25, of Riverton, on June 30, 2016. Holt visited in order to marry a woman he met through online Spanish lessons, and to secure visas for her and her children. His wife Theresa Calena also was being held separately in the capital city of Caracas.

"We remain extremely concerned for his health and his well-being," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said during a briefing Thursday in Washington, D.C. "Sometimes they have blocked his care altogether."

Venezuelan officials accused Holt of harboring assault rifles and grenades in a plot to undermine President Nicolas Maduro. His family has said his only offense was being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

President Donald Trump also called for Holt's release in August as he announced sanctions on the nation.

A shipping magnate who has ties to Venezuela's embattled socialist government is paying for Holt's legal defense, though the businessman has not said why. Wilmer Ruperti also has funded the defense for Maduro's two nephews in a narcotics case, the Associated Press has reported.

Government officials in Venezuela have not brought Holt to scheduled court appearances, Nauert said. Attorneys in October argued for charges to be dropped during a preliminary hearing, but no ruling has been issued.

— Annie Knox