Free Josh Holt * Support the Family Of Josh Holt * Free Joshua Holt

If you are Reading this Donald lets get this one accomplished for your old good friend Stephen Hyde.

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — The Trump administration’s top diplomat in Venezuela pressed for the release of a jailed Utah man Thursday, saying the case is the main obstacle to improving strained relations between the two countries.

Todd Robinson told The Associated Press it is a “tragedy” that Joshua Holt has been imprisoned the past 19 months on what the U.S. considers trumped-up charges. The diplomat said he is holding Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza personally responsible if anything that happens to Holt while in jail.

“I believe he can and he must resolve the situation,” Robinson said of Arreaza. “If he truly wants to talk about the other important issues between the United States and Venezuela, we can do that, but only after Joshua Holt is free.”

Holt has languished in a Caracas jail cell since June 2016 when he was arrested on weapons charges during a visit to Venezuela to get married. Holt met his wife, Theresa Caleno, in an online website for Spanish-speaking Mormons. She also remains jailed as an alleged accomplice.

Venezuela authorities allege Holt used his wife’s apartment in Caracas to stockpile weapons and have linked him to unspecified attempts by the U.S. to undermine President Nicolas Maduro’s rule amid deep economic and political turbulence. Holt’s family says an assault rifle and a grenade found in the apartment were planted.

The case has become a major thorn in relations between the U.S. and Venezuela, which were already tense from previous U.S. administrations. The Trump administration has slapped sanctions on dozens of senior Venezuelan officials with the goal of weakening Maduro’s grip on power.

Arreaza’s office and the Ministry of Communications did not respond to requests for comment.

A senior administration official in Washington said U.S. officials fear it is unlikely Holt will be released as long as Maduro remains in power, calling the prisoner a political hostage. The official agreed to discuss the case only if not quoted by name because he wasn’t authorized to publicly discuss U.S. policy on Venezuela.

“I don’t see any scenario where they just up and return him,” the official said, adding that President Donald Trump is personally following the case.

Since landing in Venezuela six weeks ago, Robinson hasn’t shied from taking jabs at Maduro’s socialist administration.

More on Joshua Holt:

Days after he arrived in Caracas, the U.S. Embassy posted a comment on Twitter calling the new National Constituent Assembly “illegitimate,” saying it engages in undemocratic practices and is “inventing rules” as it goes. The president of the pro-government constitution-writing assembly, Delcy Rodriguez, retorted that Robinson was beginning his diplomatic assignment on “the wrong foot.”

The U.S. diplomat has lobbied hard for Holt’s release, raising it in his first face-to-face meeting with Arreaza and tweeting about his plight three times.

Venezuela and the United States haven’t exchanged ambassadors since 2010, so Robinson holds the position of chief of mission in the U.S. Embassy in Caracas, while preserving his ambassadorial rank.

Robinson has led a long diplomatic career specializing in Latin America, serving as ambassador to Guatemala for three years until September. Along the way, he earned a reputation for speaking out and several times faced calls for his expulsion from past assignments.

He has made his presence known in Caracas, first posting a video on the embassy’s website introducing himself to the Venezuelan people. He has also posted photos touring Bolivar Plaza, a gathering place for pro-government die-hards, and he also attended a baseball game.

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Utah sees drug court participation decline after reform

ODGEN — Fewer people are enrolling in Utah’s drug courts after the state launched a criminal justice reform three years ago that reduced some drug felonies to misdemeanors.

Participation is down by about 10 percent across the approximately 60 Utah drug courts, which are designed to give addicts a path to recovery, the Standard-Examiner reported.

Under the drug court program, a person could plead guilty to some drug offenses, and the charges would be dismissed if that person completes a rehabilitation program lasting 12 to 18 months.

The program is typically very structured with a schedule that includes substance abuse treatment, court appearances and frequent urine tests, said Kathy Morris, the former coordinator of the Davis County drug court in Farmington. If participants fail drug tests or miss appointments, they could be sent back to jail.

Since the Davis County drug court began about 20 years ago, 793 people have completed the program and stayed clean for at least five years, Morris said.

For the drug court in the Ogden area, enrollment is down by about 30 percent, Weber County Attorney Chris Allred said.

“It’s the most effective treatment I’ve seen anywhere, but I don’t think it works without the leverage of a felony,” Allred said.

Some people are choosing to spend a few days in jail on a misdemeanor drug offense instead of going through the rigorous drug court program, he said.

The decline in drug court participation is linked to Utah’s 2015 Justice Reinvestment Initiative, which reduced penalties for some offenses such as drug possession, said Jeff Marrott, spokesman for the state Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health.

Morris said he believes the lighter penalty is ultimately a negative.

“I personally don’t believe it’s a good thing,” Morris said. “We are kind of causing some harm to people. Before, people were more willing and wanting to be in the program with a felony hanging over their head.”

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Sessions calls for probe of Bundy case after mistrial

Sessions calls for probe of Bundy case after mistrial

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Weed for SUV trade ends in arrests

Weed for SUV trade ends in arrests

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Judicial nominee’s struggles at Senate hearing go viral

Dec. 15, 2017 – 3:32 – Raw video: Matthew Petersen, a member of the Federal Election Commission who has been nominated for a judgeship on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, struggles to answer Sen. Kennedy during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing

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