It has been a grueling three years for American oil executives – dubbed the "Citgo 6" – who were finally found guilty on corruption charges in the Venezuelan capital of Caracas last week.
But despite the even darker shadow now cast on the families' bid to bring them home, the daughter of one refuses to lose faith and is speaking out.
"Now, on the fourth Thanksgiving that he is separated from us, this closed-door trial comes to an end and with the sham verdict. We miss our dad and we really just want him home," Cristina Vadell told Fox News on Wednesday. "If there is anything that President Trump can do now to resolve this, now is the time, right? The clock is ticking and we would love to see our father home by Christmas."
Her father, Tomeu Vadell – who called Lake Charles, La., home – spent 35 years with PDVSA and Citgo. But his nightmare began just before Thanksgiving 2017 when he and five fellow U.S.-based executives, employed by the Houston-headquartered Citgo, a division of Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA, were lured to Caracas for a meeting.
They were then abruptly arrested by officials and charged with corruption. However, from the onset, it was mostly assumed that the Americans were innocent and being used as pawns amid deteriorating relations between Washington and the Venezuelan-helmed Nicolas Maduro regime, which have since severed diplomatic ties.
"My father went to work and never came home essentially. He has been held as a hostage for over three years and you can imagine this has just been a grueling experience – not just for us but for him and those men," Cristina Vadell continued. "And he is 61 years old with preexisting conditions and I worry about his health and safety. This has to end."
Preliminary court hearings in the case were delayed more than 15 times, with little explanation. After more than two years behind bars, the men were moved to house arrest in December last year – raising hopes that they may be brought home.
But in apparent retaliation to the U.S. Department of Justice slapping drug charges and a $15 million bounty on Maduro, the men were returned to cells in March before their trial began four months ago, with a verdict returned last Thursday.
The others convicted alongside Tomeu Vadell are Americans Gustavo Cárdenas, Jorge Toledo, and brothers Jose Luis Zambrano and Alirio Zambrano, all of whom were sentenced to prison terms of eight years and 10 months. Jose Pereira, a permanent resident, received the longest sentence of 13 years.
The six men, who all pleaded not guilty, were also charged with embezzlement stemming from a never-executed proposal to refinance some $4 billion in Citgo bonds by offering a 50% stake in the company as collateral. Following the arrest, Maduro accused them of "treason."
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has slammed the trial and maintained that the men have been "wrongfully detained" in horrid conditions and should immediately be released. Meanwhile, Tomeu Vadell last month released an impassioned statement from behind bars – avoiding any political comments – and simply asked for the chance to "rebuild (his) life and compensate (his) family for all lost moments."
For his daughter, that chance cannot come soon enough.
"We have been able to speak with him a little bit and just like the letter says, he maintains hope and he is so strong," Cristina Vadell added. "I wish for him to stay strong until we can get him home. Because nobody should be held as a hostage."
The Associated Press contributed to this report