The son of a former Lithuanian lawmaker and judge wanted in her homeland in connection to claims she made about a pedophile ring said Tuesday that his mother's extradition from Chicago appears to be underway.
Karolis Venckus tells The Associated Press his mother, 48-year-old Neringa Venckiene, messaged him Tuesday to say her Chicago jail guards told her to collect her belongings and that she was being taken away.
Venckus, who lived with his mother in Chicago until her arrest in early 2018, says the two have been in almost daily contact.
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Venckiene waged a nearly two-year legal battle from a Chicago jail to avoid her forced return. A federal appeals court earlier in 2019 deemed Venckiene's extradition lawful and in mid-October the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear her appeal, dashing her last hopes of remaining in the U.S., where she lived since 2013.
Three weeks ago, federal officials said in court filings that there were no longer any legal obstacles to sending Venckiene back to Lithuania.
Her son said his mother said in her brief Tuesday note — sent through an inmate email system — that she was told "they are picking me up today" and to "collect everything," Venckus told the AP. She ended the note by telling her son, "I love you."
Venckiene's Chicago lawyer, Michael Monico, agreed all signs are U.S. authorities began the process Tuesday of putting his client on a plane to Lithuania. "It's absolutely terrible," he added.
A message left for spokesmen at the Federal Bureau of Prisons was not immediately returned. The U.S. attorney's office in Chicago, which has overseen the extradition process, declined comment.
The once-rising judicial star who led an anti-pedophilia movement in Lithuania that swept her and six others into parliament in 2012, told The Associated Press in an interview from jail last year that because of her work she feared for her life if she was returned to Lithuania.
She fled the Baltic nation with Venckus, then a teenager, to seek political asylum in the U.S. in 2013. They settled in the Chicago suburb of Crystal Lake, where friends described her as bright and kind but traumatized by the drama that engulfed her in Lithuania.
Venckiene was working as a florist when U.S. agents arrested her in 2018 at Lithuania's request. The charges she faces in Lithuania include disobeying an order to relinquish custody of her 4-year-old niece, who she alleged was victimized by the network she sought to expose. She also is accused of hitting an officer as dozens of police pried the girl from her arms in a raid.
The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in July that if the U.S. didn't fulfill its obligations under extradition treaties by returning Venckiene to Lithuania, "the United States risks losing the ability to obtain the extraditions of people who commit crimes here and flee to other countries."
Venckiene was a central figure in a scandal that gripped and divided her nation of 3 million people. She is viewed by some Lithuanians as a heroine for exposing a seedy criminal network and by others as a manipulator who fabricated the pedophilia claims.
Venckiene based her allegations about a pedophile network, in part, on a 2009 video in which her niece graphically describes several men sexually abusing her. But authorities said they weren't able to corroborate the girl's claims.
The events surrounding Venckiene included the slaying of another judge accused of molesting her niece, and the death of Venckiene's brother who leveled the initial child-abuse accusation and was a suspect in the judge's murder. Months after her brother's death, another man he accused died by falling off an all-terrain vehicle into a shallow pool of water. Investigators ruled the death a drowning.
Legal pressure in Lithuania grew on Venckiene after May 17, 2012, when 250 police officers stormed her parents' home to enforce an order transferring custody of the niece to the girl's mother. They pushed through crowds of Venckiene's supporters and pried the niece from Venckiene's arms as the girl screamed that she wanted to stay.
Venckus told the AP that his mother decided to flee Lithuania in 2013 after receiving death threats that seemed credible because "people connected to the case were dying left and right."