During the return trip the bus was was stopped at a military checkpoint near Hermosillo on Wednesday, and Mexican military personnel ordered all of the passengers out of the bus. After two hours of waiting, Yanira Maldonado was informed by authorities that they found marijuana tucked under the seat assigned to her. She was taken into custody for smuggling drugs, and hauled away to a Mexican jail to await arraignment before a judge this morning.
Family member Brandon Klippel said Gary and Yanira Maldonado were the only U.S. citizens on the bus – and if drugs were truly found on board, they were already there when the couple sat down.
“You hear all of these horror stories about Mexico and you think it’s just something in the movies, right?” said Klippel. “You don’t believe it’s something that could happen to someone you know. But, when it happens to your brother and your sister – it’s hard, it’s tough to take.”
The Mormon couple, with seven children and two grandchildren between them, became quite frantic when officials first told Mr. Maldonado that the drugs were found under his seat, and placed him under arrest. After arresting Gary Maldonado, Mexican officials said they’d made a mistake – that the marijuana was actually found beneath Yanira Maldonado’s seat and an empty seat next to her’s.
The couple’s 21-year-old daughter, Anna Soto, said, “If you would’ve known my mom, if you would’ve met her – you would know she had nothing to do with it.”
Mr. Maldonado tried desperately to get his wife freed, and hired a local attorney to represent her. Brandon Klippel reports, “His attorney had talked to the prosecuting attorney there and came back to him and said, ‘You know how it works in Mexico, right? He said, ‘no I don’t.’ He [attorney] said, ‘well, if we bribe the judge – then he’ll let you go.'”
Klippel said after Gary Maldonado frantically scraped together $5,000 to free his wife Thursday, he was told it was too late–apparently, news of the arrest had focused too much attention on the case to allow for the customary bribes to judges.
Yanira Maldonado has been transferred to a holding facility in Nogales.
“When he [Gary] got there they said, ‘we don’t have any record of her at all,'” said Klippel. “He panicked. He told me terror struck him. And he thought, for that period of time, that he’d never see his wife again.”
“Yanira saw me from a distance and she just started like jumping up and down and gave me a big hug and we just cried,” said Gary Maldonado, who was finally able to visit with his wife on the morning of their wedding anniversary.
Klippel said the reunion was a major relief for the couple – especially after what Yanira had been through in the past 24 hours.
“She had a rough night,” he said. “Their interrogation included putting her in a non-air-conditioned room and waking her up several times in the middle of night – trying to get her to sign documents that she said she couldn’t read.”
He said Yanira Maldonado maintains her innocence and believes those documents were probably admission of guilt statements.
“In Mexico, I guess you’re guilty until proven innocent,” said Klippel. “So, it’s just been a real nightmare for them.”
Klippel said the Mexican Consulate is working this case and that Sen. Jeff Flake is in contact with the family, in an effort to bring Yanira Maldonado home.
Typically, a defendant in Mexico has 72 hours after the arraignment that to prove her innocence–then she’s in for the long haul.
Gary Maldonado said they have a woman and her son who can testify they saw the couple enter the bus without any packages – and, he’s hoping the charter bus company Tufesa will have surveillance video they can also use as evidence.
Senator Flake’s office is waiting to hear back from the Mexican Consulate and the U.S. Embassy’s Office and released a statement in the case, “Senator Flake is personally monitoring the situation and he has had multiple conversations with the deputy Mexican ambassador.”
Federalist Press recommends that readers call their senator or representative and demand that this American mother and wife be released immediately.
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