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Savoi Wright


UPDATED: 4:00 p.m. ET, Dec. 20, 2023

Originally published on Dec. 5, 2023

A Black American is among the U.S. citizens being sent home in a prisoner swap deal with Venezuela following their wrongful arrests in the South American nation.

Savoi Wright was on Wednesday identified as being one of the 10 American prisoners in Venezuela getting released in exchange for President Joe Biden granting clemency to Alex Saab, an ally of Venezuela President Nicolás Maduro who was arrested in 2020 on money laundering charges, NBC News reported.

Wright has been held in Venezuela since October.

Only five Americans were identified as among those being released in the prisoner swap: Joseph Cristella, Eyvin Hernandez, Jerrel Kenemore, Wright and Leonard Francis, a fugitive nicknamed “Fat Leonard” who fled to Venezuela last year before he was scheduled to be sentenced in a major bribery case.

“At this time we are not naming any additional individuals out of consideration for their privacy,” a senior Biden administration official told reporters.

“These individuals have lost far too much precious time with their loved ones, and their families have suffered every day in their absence,” Biden said in a statement. “I am grateful that their ordeal is finally over, and that these families are being made whole once more.”

Savoi Wright

Wright’s family had been praying for his safe return to U.S. soil. The 37-year-old mortgage loan specialist who works remotely in South America was not been able to retain a lawyer and has had limited contact with his family since his arrest in October.

“It’s a nightmare. It’s like you’re watching a horror movie but you’re in it,” Wright’s mother, Erin Stewart, told the Associated Press last month.

What happened?

Stewart’s nightmare began in late October when she and several family members scrambled to pay a whopping ransom fee to her son’s captors.

Before contacting his mother via WhatsApp, a digital messaging service, Wright called his cousins to notify them that he had been stopped by police in a park while he was with a woman who had drugs, KTVU reported last month. The northern California native wasn’t charged, but Venezuelan officials placed him in the custody of immigration for deportation after they noticed that his passport was missing a stamp. 

Wright contacted his cousins first because he feared his mother would have “a heart attack” from the news.

“Basically, during that time, we weren’t sure what had happened. When you hear that news, it’s difficult to digest, let alone process,” Wright’s sister, Moizeé Stewart, told KTVU, noting how she and family members stayed “up all night trying to scrape together” money to pay her brother’s hefty ransom. 

After hours of waiting, Wright eventually contacted his mother and sister. He revealed that he was in police custody about 430 miles from Cúcuta, a Colombian city near the Venezuelan border. Due to being in the presence of his captors, the 6-foot-10-inch Loyola Marymount University graduate did not go into detail about his arrest. 

“He was speaking to us in a very, kind of coded way,” Moizeé said, adding how she could hear her brother’s detainers directing him in the background.

What the U.S. government has been doing to help

Wright’s family previously said that they contacted U.S. government officials to help expedite his safe return home, but that the process had been disheartening.

“To anyone that has had the misfortune of being in this situation, your initial instinct is to go to the authorities for help and expect that there will be substantial support. This is not a situation that we’ve ever been in, let alone do we know what to do in this situation,” Moizeé said at the time. “Repeatedly, I was kind of informed that the U.S. does not have diplomatic ties with Venezuela and there is very little that can be done.” 

Stewart said she feared that her son was being held in a former textile factory-turned-detention center, where inmates have been known to endure abuse and torture. Wright has strict dietary restrictions due to his severe food allergies and she said she was concerned that her son’s health may be in jeopardy.

“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,” she added.

Wright was reportedly taken into custody shortly after Biden eased back on oil sanctions against the Venezuelan government.


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