LA County Public Defender Among 10 Released In Venezuela Prisoner Exchange Announced By The White House
Eyvin Hernandez, a Los Angeles County public defender who had been imprisoned in Venezuela since March 2022, was on his way back to the United States today as part of a prisoner-exchange announced by the White House.
President Joe Biden said a total of 10 Americans who had been detained in Venezuela were released as part of the deal, including six "wrongfully detained Americans."
"These individuals have lost far too much precious time with their loved ones, and their families have suffered every day in their absence," Biden said in a statement. "I am grateful that their ordeal is finally over and that these families are being made whole once more."
A senior administration official confirmed to reporters in Washington that Hernandez was among those released in the exchange, which also included the extradition of convicted military contractor Leonard Glenn "Fat Leonard" Francis, who escaped home arrest in San Diego last year after pleading guilty to bribing Navy officials.
Garrett Miller, president of the Los Angeles County Public Defenders Union, Local 148, said in a statement he was "thrilled that Eyvin will be coming home and that this ordeal is finally over."
"I can't even imagine how traumatizing this has been for Eyvin, and our union will do all it can to support him in the coming months,'' Miller said. "Eyvin has been deeply missed by his fellow Local 148 members, and we can't wait to see him again. I'm grateful to Eyvin's family for their tireless advocacy and also want to thank Local 148 board member Drew Havens who worked alongside them, advocating for Eyvin's release.''
Hernandez, an L.A. County deputy public defender for 15 years, was on vacation in Colombia when he joined a friend on a trip to the Colombian-Venezuelan border to resolve a passport issue involving the friend's stay in Venezuela.
At the border, Hernandez and his friend were intercepted by what has been described in various reports as either a paramilitary group, a gang or official Venezuelan forces. Hernandez and his friend were eventually turned over to Venezuelan security forces and jailed in a maximum security prison in Caracas.
Hernandez was accused of criminal association and conspiracy, which are punishable by up to 16 years in jail in Venezuela.
Over the past nearly two years, various public officials have sent letters to the White House urging the administration to secure Hernandez's release. The county Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a motion last year asking the administration and other federal elected officials to work for his release. The Los Angeles City Council took similar action earlier this year.
Reps. Sydney Kamlager-Dove and Nanette Barragán, both D-Los Angeles, joined Rep. Young Kim, R-Orange County, and Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, introduced a resolution earlier this year calling on the Venezuelan "regime" to immediately release Hernandez.
In December 2022, L.A. Mayor Karen Bass joined Barragán and other congressional representatives in sending a joint letter to Biden, asking his administration to work to free Hernandez.
In exchange for the release of Americans, the United States agreed to release Alex Saab, a close ally of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. Saab had been awaiting trial on money laundering charges.