Oakland man released by Venezuelan gov't in prisoner swap with US

An Oakland man whose family said he was "wrongfully arrested" in Venezuela in October has been released as part of an exchange of prisoners orchestrated by the Biden administration. 

Savoi Wright, a Berkeley native, and nine other American prisoners are being sent back to the United States in exchange for "a close ally" and associate of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. Venezuela is also releasing a fugitive implicated in a Pentagon bribery scandal to the US.

"These past few months have been some of the most difficult of our lives, and we are relieved that this ordeal has ended. We are grateful to the U.S. government for bringing Savoi home so quickly…to the many others who helped to bring Savoi home. We are forever grateful," the family said partly in a statement.

Wright was arrested on Oct. 24 and was being held for tens of thousands in ransom after the Biden administration eased oil sanctions on the South American nation. At least five other Americans detained were done so wrongfully, the U.S. government alleged.

"In time, we will have much to say about how we think this process could better serve families about reforms needed to the designation system, but for now, we'd respectfully ask for privacy and space as we welcome Savoi home and help him recover from the trauma of this ordeal," the family's statement said.

Another California resident was released in the swap: Eyvin Hernandez of Los Angeles County. Hernandez worked as an LA County public defender and was imprisoned in Venezuela in March 2022.

They and the remaining Americans were swapped at Kelly Airfield Annex in San Antonio, Texas, Wednesday evening.


Oakland man arrested in Venezuela days after Biden administration eases oil sanctions

A California man’s family is pleading for his release after they say he was wrongfully arrested in Venezuela and held for tens of thousands of dollars in ransom just days after the Biden administration eased crippling oil sanctions on the socialist-run government.

His family told KTVU last month that they were being extorted for the 38-year-old and that the U.S. government showed "no sense of urgency" in his return.

Erin and Moizeé Stewart, Wright's mother and sister respectively, told the Associated Press that he was "set up." According to them, he was with a woman who had drugs on her. Police ruled out wrongdoing on his part but claimed his passport did not have a stamp and was turned over to immigration officials for deportation. 

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Photo of an Oakland man, Savoi Wright, who was arrested in Venezuela. Familiy members say he was wrongfully arrested and is being held for tens of thousands of dollars in ransom. Wright was arrested in October. (Photo courtesy Erin Stewart/Moizeé Stewart )

They said they were unclear about what happened next and that he was being held in a detention center held by Venezuelan military counterintelligence.

He spent his 38th birthday imprisoned, according to the family.

"He has no political ties. He is not a threat to Venezuela. We're very concerned for him. Nobody's acknowledging him. Nobody officially. We're very concerned for his health and his well-being. We want him home," his mother Erin previously told KTVU.

The man being returned to Venezuela is Alex Saab, an associate of Venezuela's president. 

Saab had been accused of money laundering and allegedly swindled $350 million through state contracts to build affordable housing for Venezuela's government, the AP reported.