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Hope In Darkness – Ep. 10 – Full Transcript

Full Transcript – Ep. 10: Connecting the Dots

We go in-depth on all the work behind the scenes to secure Josh and Thamy Holt’s freedom – including never-before-heard details about the strange interplay of faith, legal, political and human rights activists.   

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Ep. 10: Connecting the Dots

HOST BECKY BRUCE:

Hope in Darkness is a podcast that addresses sensitive topics including torture, abuse, and human rights violations. Listener discretion is advised.

Right around Christmas of 2017, everyone connected with the efforts to get Josh and Thamy home, felt some real pressure to try to make something happen. Josh got very sick and sent this message home to his mother.

JOSH HOLT ARCHIVAL:

[breathing heavy] I don’t feel very good. I’ve been throwing up all night, diarrhea all night, and I’m very dizzy. I can’t think. My stomach hurts super bad. I really don’t know what to do.

BECKY:

That message grabbed attention — and headlines. After a year and a half in prison, the Holts’ fight had fallen off the news radar for the most part. Now, news outlets started to pick up the story again.

NEWS ARCHIVAL:

Holt’s mother says he fell sick with a stomach infection about a month ago and is being denied medical attention. Senator Hatch, who has been working with Holt, released a statement tonight reading in part quote, “I call on the Maduro government to see that Josh is able to receive immediate medical attention.”

JOSH:

I was up all night throwing up. I had diarrhea. I couldn’t take in anything, couldn’t take in any fluids. There were no doctors there to help me. The last, one of the last times that I threw up, I went out of the bathroom, and I just kind of collapsed right there, in the middle of the room, right in between the two beds.

BECKY:

Josh tried to no avail to get one of his cellmates’ attention. Finally, he managed to drag himself to one of their bunks.

JOSH:

I remember calling him – Cappy – Cappy, his name’s Eddie, but he was a captain. So, we call him Cappy. The words just wouldn’t come. And so, I remember crawling over to his bed and reaching up and just grabbing his foot and just shaking it. And finally, he like, woke up and got out of his bed and looked at me, goes Joshua, what’s wrong? What’s going on? They started yelling for the officers to come and just nothing would happen.

BECKY:

The Holts had yet another court appearance scheduled. As bad as he felt. Josh managed to get himself together enough to ride in the van to the courthouse.

JOSH:

The judge came in before anyone else, before our lawyers, before the prosecutor. Normally she’s not allowed to see us or talk with us before that. And she got super, super upset. She went out and talked to the people. She said, “What’s going on with him? He needs medical attention right now.” And so, that’s what she requested. She requested that I would be taken to the hospital, which I never was after that. And then she came back in the room and looked at me and my wife. She said, “I’m sorry. But I have to send you to trial.” She said, “I did everything I could. But there’s just nothing else that I can do.” And at that point, I remember looking up at her and looking her in the eyes and just saying, “No, ma’am, you didn’t.”

BECKY:

But the Holts weren’t without friends. In both Venezuela and in the U.S., people concerned for Josh and Thamy were doing everything they could. I’m Becky Bruce, and this is Hope In Darkness, Episode 10, ‘Connecting the Dots.’

BILL DUKER:

I am the funder of a litigation called the Venezuela Trust Litigation.

CARLOS TRUJILLO:

You know any Venezuelan who hears his name, your alarms do go off.

CALEB MCCARRY:

I got to know Nicholas Maduro and his wife Cilia Flores. You know, we drank some Sam Adams together.

BECKY:

This episode will focus on all the work that was going on behind the scenes to help free Thamy and Josh Holt from El Helicoide. In April of 2017, Elder Abraham Quero of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints traveled from Caracas to Salt Lake City. The Venezuelan church leader was ostensibly headed to Utah to attend something called General Conference, a twice yearly gathering of Latter-Day Saints — but he may have had an additional objective in mind.

TRUJILLO:

He called me, he just said, “I’m helping Josh Holt, and I need you to jump in on the case.”

BECKY:

Carlos Trujillo is a Utah immigration attorney who was born and raised in Venezuela. You met him in an earlier episode. Carlos was just a teenager when he moved to the United States. Alarmed by the growing authoritarianism of the Chavez regime, his parents decided it would be better for him to live with an aunt in Utah. He had mixed feelings about leaving his family, but a church leader gave him some advice.

TRUJILLO:

I’ll never forget his words, that the Lord had a plan for me. That the Lord knew when I’ll be helping, and how I’ll be helping, and I just needed to go do what I needed to do.

BECKY:

More than a decade later, after several moves and momentous life changes, he finally got a sense for what that purpose might be.

TRUJILLO:

Every single one of those things that happened led to Josh. Led to that moment.

BECKY:

The moment Elder Quero called and said, “I need your help.” After his phone conversation with Elder Quero, Carlos went with the church leader to meet Laurie and Jason, Josh’s parents, at their home in Riverton outside Salt Lake City. Carlos quickly became a steadfast ally of the Holt family.

TRUJILLO:

The job really was about being a bridge between what was happening there and what the parents were really suffering here, on the fact of being ignorant to how things work down there, how the laws work down there, as far as understanding certain strategies that were being suggested.

BECKY:

He was in a unique position to serve as that bridge. His mom had been an attorney in Venezuela while he was growing up. So, he knew the Venezuelan justice system through her eyes. He himself is a US immigration attorney.

TRUJILLO:

Even though I didn’t became an attorney in Venezuela, I was aware – because of my background, being Venezuelan – how things work down there, but I definitely had to kind of study up a little bit, to understand and to be able to put it in a way that Jason and Laurie will feel at peace.

BECKY:

Part of being a bridge meant Carlos helped the Holts brainstorm. He could help them see what needed to be done in Venezuela and figure out how to get that accomplished from so far away.

TRUJILLO:

What can we do here in the state of Utah to get the help necessary?

BECKY:

Strategy one.

TRUJILLO:

Trying to take away the politics.

BECKY:

In other words, stop painting Josh and Thamy as political prisoners and emphasize their innocence. Strategy two, get new attorneys on the ground in Venezuela.

TRUJILLO:

So, it was having somebody inside who can deal with the corruption of the judicial system.

BECKY:

Then came strategy three, the good old boy network. The idea that who you know is much more important than what you know, or what actions you take. They needed some insiders, people who could connect them to those in power in Venezuela. The problem was, they didn’t know any good old boys, but the good old boys found them.

This is where the story took a sharp left turn. Far from Utah or Venezuela, a man named Bill Duker picked up a newspaper.

DUKER:

I read an article in the New York Times about Josh’s situation, and I am the funder of a litigation called, in short form, the Venezuela Trust Litigation.

BECKY:

Bill Duker is a venture capitalist, a very successful one. So successful in fact, that he once sailed the world’s sixth largest yacht around the world. That trip came some time after he served a few years in prison. Duker began his career as a Yale educated attorney. He represented the United States government in targeting failed savings and loans companies, recouping hundreds of millions of dollars for Uncle Sam, but he also overbilled the government for over a million dollars, which got him disbarred and sent to prison. Interesting fact, the judge who sentenced him was Sonia Sotomayor, who now sits on the Supreme Court. Duker bounced back making millions by investing in promising up and coming companies. One of those led him to Josh.

DUKER:

I have a document management company that very quickly indexes and categorizes what’s referred to as unstructured data, emails, Word documents, that sort of stuff.

BECKY:

A few years ago, a private investigator approached Duker to see if the software could be used in a potential legal case. He suspected oil trading companies were devaluing petroleum from Venezuela’s state-run oil company – PDVSA – on purpose. Basically, if they conspired to all underbid, they could drive down the price of oil and cheat the Venezuelan government out of its own oil money.

DUKER:

The damages are in the multi-billion-dollar range, perhaps 25 billion or more.

BECKY:

The investigator wanted to see if Duker’s company could examine some documents that might prove their case.

DUKER:

He asked if I would take a look at those and give him some thoughts about how he might find the right lawyer to bring a case based oh the corrupt scheme.

BECKY:

Duker suggested —

DUKER:

One of the best litigators in America, a guy named David Boies.

BECKY:

If you haven’t heard of him, you probably know his work. He represented Al Gore in Bush v. Gore. He helped the government successfully prosecute Microsoft, and he represented the Players Association during the NBA lockout of 2011. More recently, Boies gained a measure of public notoriety for his connection to disgraced former billionaire Elizabeth Holmes and her company Theranos. As documented in the best-selling book, Bad Blood, Boies not only represented Holmes, he also sat on the Theranos board. He’s also represented Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein in the past, and currently reps a number of Jeffrey Epstein’s accusers. And those are just a few of his high-profile cases.

DUKER:

You know, David has a huge reputation and a huge capacity, not only for law, but for generosity and a spirit that is dedicated to people who need his help — not only who can afford his help, but people who need his help.

BECKY:

Boies was already representing the nephews of Venezuela’s First Lady, Celia Flores. Her nephews were accused of running drugs in the U.S. Now, Boies found himself representing Venezuela’s state-run oil company on Duker’s suggestion. Duker went on to help fund the lawsuit and got to know a lot of the Venezuelan players. When he read that story about Josh in the newspaper, he figured, why not ask and see if any of them could do something.

DUKER:

There was some indication that might be possible. That it would be a more noble thing if we did something pro bono during the course of that and help this kid who seemed to have been in the crosshairs because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. And so, we began to talk with other people in Venezuela who had influence down there.

BECKY:

That led him to Wilmer Ruperti, a shipping tycoon.

TRUJILLO:

Who was Mr. Ruperti, okay? You know, as a Venezuelan, your alarm goes off, not in a bad way… but you know you recognize the name.

BECKY:

His ties to Venezuela’s leadership go back to 2002, when business leaders shut down the oil industry in an attempt to oust Chavez. The idea was, if you could rob the Chavez regime of its main source of money – oil – it wouldn’t be able to function. Ruperti, for his part, helped keep PDVSA and Chavez afloat during the industry shutdown. The coup failed, but Ruperti maintained close ties to the regime for decades. And he became one of the wealthiest men in Venezuela. In 2018, Ruperti was also helping fund the legal defense of the nephews of Venezuela’s First Lady. Through this shared connection to David Boies, Ruperti agreed to help Josh and Thamy. Now Duker, having tapped into the good ol’ boy network, just had to reach out to the Holt family.

BREAK

JASON (JOSH’S DAD):

Fourth of July 2017, it had been a year. I get a knock on the door and It was probably about 10:00 p.m., 10:30 p.m.

BECKY:

Josh’s dad, Jason Holt, didn’t know who would be coming to visit that late, even on a holiday. Oddly enough, it was … Josh Holt.

JOSH:

There’s a person that I knew in Riverton, whose name was also Josh Holt. He was two or three years older than my Josh, and they played football. He came, he had this number. He says,  “You know, we really, we really thought if we should come over, you know, this late at night, almost 11 o’clock, and bring this to you, but we think this might be something you want to know about.” So, they gave me this number. They said that they have information about Josh and to call them.

BECKY:

Duker had reached out to the other Josh Holt by mistake, with contact information for Ruperti in Venezuela.

TRUJILLO:

It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t easy because we were concerned whether these people will have the best interest at heart for Josh and Thamy. You know, this time he didn’t come recommended by Elder Quero. You know, somebody that you can say, okay, yeah, we feel good. That’s where the recommendation was coming from. But if we bring in someone who has those connections, maybe that will be the final way to bring Josh and Thamy home.

JOSH:

Wilmer Ruperti had a son, and his son’s godfather was the director of SEBIN, who was the director over where I was being held. So those connections there, and the fact that one of the wardens used to be a bodyguard for Willmer, all the different connections, you know, we just finally decided…let’s try it out.

BECKY:

Ruperti’s connection to the Venezuelan regime gave Carlos and Thamy both some heartburn.

TRUJILLO:

Thamy being Venezuelan and knowing who Mr. Ruperti was, it was quite a conflict on her conscience. People knew that he was, you know, in favor maybe in some contracts that there was some stuff going on that he was kind of booming because of those connections, okay. So with everything that is happening in your country, and you’re seeing this person who is thriving, the one that is doesn’t have problems putting food on his table, and all the extravaganzas that are being reported, you can have him up there in a tier where you put Maduro, you put Chávez, because they were the people that was shown…how the corrupt government was benefiting them only.

THAMY HOLT:

Aún yo no comprendo…[fades down]

TRANSLATION:

I still don’t understand how or why he decided to help us. He just showed up one day said, “I’m Wilmer Ruperti. Nice to meet you, and I’d like to help you.”

THAMY:

[fades in] …mucho gusto, soy yo Wilmer Ruperti, deseo ayudarles.

JOSH:

It was just really hard for her. I was the American, and my family was making all of the decisions. She didn’t feel like her family was given a choice in things. She didn’t feel like she was being represented correctly.

THAMY:

Todavía está en mi mente la incógnita de por qué…[fades down]

TRANSLATION:

Still in my mind is a mystery of why? Why Joshua? Why the help? Why pay for our lawyers? Why help us with protection inside the jail, because he paid money to make sure nothing happened to us.

BECKY:

I asked Ruperti why he got involved. We couldn’t use the audio because of the poor phone connection, but to summarize, he felt like it was just the right thing to do. A strong Catholic, Ruperti also has ties to the US. Several of his children live here. He felt sure there had to be a way to bring the two countries together to find some kind of common ground. He also disliked the way the situation gave his country a bad rep. He wanted to show the Holts there was more to Venezuela than corruption. His involvement in the case vastly improved their living conditions.

THAMY:

Después de que conocimos a él, todo en el cárcel cambió…[fades down]

TRANSLATION:

After we met him, everything in the jail changed. I had privileges; Josh had privileges. The guards treated us better.

BECKY:

Josh and Thamy were able to get items of comfort, better treatment, and so on, because Ruperti was involved. He even got a new dentist to come in and fix the botched dental work done earlier in their prison stay.

TRUJILLO:

From all of that, I kind of received a life lesson there. You know, we shouldn’t be judging people by their cover because he ended up, even if he didn’t end up being the key person to make them be free, there were times that were so dire for Josh and Thamy, that without him, their lives would have definitely been in a very greater danger.

BECKY:

It turns out they had another direct connection to Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro — in addition to Ruperti.

MCCARRY:

How I got involved with this was when I was asked to meet with Josh’s mother.

BECKY:

One person paying close attention to Josh and Thamy’s case was Caleb McCarry. McCarry has had a long career in international relations. In 2017, he worked as a senior staff member for the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Tennessee’s Bob Corker. That position is what originally put him in Laurie Holt’s path when she was looking for help for her son on Capitol Hill. Josh and I talked to him via Skype on a sunny afternoon in Washington DC.

MCCARRY:

As she, as your mom walked out of the door, I said to myself, “If I ever get a chance to help this woman get her son back up, I’m going to do that.”

BECKY:

McCarry got the opportunity long before he met Laurie. In 2002, he was involved in some diplomatic outreaches related to the failed coup, in which Wilmer Ruperti played a role.

MCCARRY:

In the wake of that failed coup, where, certainly Chavez and the chavistas, were convinced that the United States had been behind it. My experience with that was that I don’t think we were behind it. I do think we knew all about it. But I was involved in an effort to try to bring the U.S. and Venezuela together, quietly. And so I had been asked by a liberal Democrat member of Congress and the Republican congressman I was working for at the time to support bringing legislators from Venezuela, from the National Assembly, to Massachusetts, actually. And find the money to pay for all this, which we did.

BECKY:

It became known as the Boston group. Venezuela’s delegation included people from both the Chavez government and the opposition.

MCCARRY:

And among the participants in that program, we had a couple of iterations of it. Turned out it was Nicolás Maduro and his wife, Cilia Flores. And so, I got to know then Diputado Maduro, and then Diputada Flores through that effort.

BECKY:

McCarry got to know the future president and first lady of Venezuela, well enough that he felt like he could be pretty open with them.

MCCARRY:

I was pretty hardline in those days. And so I…you know, certainly had some direct conversations with Maduro about chavismo and what they were doing in the country. And, you know, frankly, we drank some Sam Adams together. We were at a retreat.

BECKY:

McCarry shared a beer with Nicholas Maduro.

MCCARRY:

Fast forward to 2014 of February with the massive street protests against the Maduro government.

BECKY:

A member of the earlier Boston Group’s Venezuela delegation, general assemblymen and opposition leader Pedro Diaz Blum, reached out to Caleb to ask if the Boston Group could help Venezuela’s opposition and the Maduro regime shake hands.

MCCARRY:

So, Pedro was looking for a way…we had always thought that it would be important for us to be able to talk with President Maduro about the Boston Group and bringing the two sides together. Pedro did not have a way to get through to Maduro. He and I used to say, you know, if only we could talk to Nicolás, we’re pretty sure that we could, you know, he would understand because he knows the Boston Group. And so, that’s where Governor Lacava came.

BECKY:

That’s Rafael Lacava, the governor of Venezuela’s Carabobo state, and former mayor of the country’s largest port city. He’s another colorful character. He goes by the nickname Dracula, seeing himself as a kind of real-life Batman, complete with Batmobile knockoff, making late night patrols to thwart black-market dealings.

MCCARRY:

Pedro had served with Lacava in the National Assembly at the time that the original Boston Group came together, but he was interested in trying to find a way to resolve the relationship between Venezuela and the United States.

BECKY:

The 2014 unrest and subsequent Boston Group intervention didn’t result in any real change in Venezuela, but it gave McCarry an important connection to Lacava, the Batman, which he would be able to use to help Josh Holt. In February 2018, just a few months after he met with Laurie, McCarry got on a plane and headed to Caracas. Lacava – Dracula – had said that he would set up a meeting for him with President Maduro to talk about the case.

MCCARRY:

We were walking into the meeting, Lacava said to me, “You know, Caleb, President Maduro has got to really feel like you’re his friend.” You know, that wasn’t hard because I was there as his friend. I was concerned that he did not understand how bad the situation was in Washington, where nobody, literally nobody – not even Bernie Sanders – had any sympathy whatsoever for him or for the chavistas. I wanted him to understand that. When we walked in President Maduro and Cilia Flores were sitting there, of course, said “Hello.” President Maduro said, “Caleb, you look just alike, only you’re quite a bit wider than you used to be.”

BECKY:

McCarry and Diez Blum began the meeting by sharing photos from that original 2002 Boston Group retreat.

MCCARRY:

He had commented on each one and reminisced about that experience. The Boston Group is something that President Maduro actually – and Cilia – both value. And can be of help.

BECKY:

They didn’t have much time, but they wanted to take the time to build some goodwill.

MCCARRY:

Well, Lacava told me later, was that President Maduro was not happy I was coming to talk about the case. That he told Lacava that the meeting would last 30 minutes, then Maduro would tell me the answer was no.

BECKY:

McCarry didn’t know all that. He read a letter from Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, pleading for Josh and Thamy’s release. And after the 30 minutes were up.

MCCARRY:

The Vice President of Venezuela knocked on the doors, it had been planned and President Maduro got up. Told him he was going to have to wait. We met for almost two hours. The end of those two hours, two things happened. Maduro said, “Please tell Senator Hatch that we will take his request seriously, that we are serious people. And that, you know, and then he said, “Lacava, Pedro, I’m told that Joshua Holt is in good condition, but I want you two to go and to meet with him and to verify that that’s the case and report back to me. I asked if I could join that visit. He said of course. He said, “How long are you going to be in town, Caleb? I said, “Well, I’ll stay as long as I need to-to bring Josh home.” He said, “Well, then you’re going to be here for a long time.”

BECKY:

Diaz-Blum, Lacava, and McCarry traveled to El Helicoide.

MCCARRY:

I will never forget it, when I asked you to lead us in prayer. I was so proud of you, Josh. For your composure and your faith and holding hands with your jailer of all things. I think your prayer was the beginning of your release, in my personal view.

BECKY:

McCarry had to go back to Washington empty-handed, but he worried he needed to act quickly before things got worse.

Next time on Hope in Darkness.

JOSH ARCHIVAL:

We need the help of the United States. I need the help of my people to come and get me and my wife. Please I beg of you, with all my heart, don’t allow us to suffer more.

BECKY:

Hope in Darkness is written and produced by me, Becky Bruce. Additional producing and editing came from Nina Earnest. Sound mixing by Trent Sell. Our executive producer is Sheryl Worsley. Original theme composed by Michael Bahnmiller. Additional voice work provided by Rebecca Cressman and Alex Kirry. Special thanks to Josh and Thamy Holt and their family for sharing their experiences and story. You can follow us on Twitter and Instagram at Hope Darkness Pod or online at hopedarkness.com and your feedback is always helpful. Drop us a rating or review wherever you listen. Hope in Darkness is a KSL podcast.

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