A Mormon mother-of-seven visiting Mexico for a funeral was thrown in jail when her bus was stopped at a military checkpoint and marijuana was found on board. Her family says she was thrown in prison after they failed to raise money to bribe a judge quickly enough.
Yanira Maldonado was returning to Arizona from Mexico with her husband Gary after they attended her aunt’s funeral. Stopped at a military checkpoint near Hermosillo on Wednesday, police claimed they found marijuana beneath a seat. Yanira and her husband claim the cannabis was not theirs – a devout Mormon couple, they don’t even drink alcohol.
Accused of smuggling, at first officials arrested Gary. Then, claiming they made a mistake, they said the marijuana was actually under Yanira’s seat. The couple had been the only Americans on the bus.
An attorney told her husband he would need money to bribe a judge. Gary managed to raise $5,000, but at that point the judge refused to release his wife.
“You hear all these horror stories about Mexico,” Yanira’s brother Brandon Klippel told CBS5, “and you think it’s just something in the movies, right? 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 couple has seven children and two grandchildren.
"His attorney had talked to the prosecuting attorney there and came back to him and said, 'You know how it works in Mexico, right?'" Klippel said. "He said, 'no I don't.' He [attorney] said, 'well, if we bribe the judge - then he'll let you go.'"
Yanira was transferred to a holding facility in Nogales without Gary’s knowledge. Friday morning he went to the facility at they told him “we don’t have any record of her at all,” Klippel said. It wasn’t until Friday night that the facility admitted she was there.
"She had a rough night," Klippel 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."
Yanira said she believed the documents they wanted her to sign were confessional statements of guilt.
"In Mexico, I guess you're guilty until proven innocent," Klippel said. "So, it's just been a real nightmare for them."
Gary said a woman from the bus will, hopefully, testify that the couple boarded the bus without the marijuana package. The charter bus company, Tufesa, should also have surveillance footage that can be used as evidence.
The family has been in contact with U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. Flake’s office said he is monitoring Yanira’s situation and has been in contact with the deputy Mexican ambassador.
Yanira is expected to appear before a judge at a Monday hearing.
Case updates can be found on the family’s Facebook group.