UNION COUNTY, Tenn. — A U.S. Congressman continues to work with the family of an East Tennessee Marine veteran to bring him home after authorities in Venezuela imprisoned him nearly four months ago.
The Venezuelan government arrested Matthew Heath at a roadblock in September 2020, saying he had been transporting a grenade launcher and bag of money. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro accused Heath of being a terrorist and spying for former President Donald Trump. He remains in prison there.
His family denies those accusations are true, saying he was in Colombia to visit his girlfriend and get more boating experience. Just days before his arrest he told them he'd be heading home.
Along with this family, Congressman Chuck Fleischmann has been working to bring Heath home.
It’s been almost four months since Connie Haynes has talked to her son. A recent letter has given her hope he’s safe.
In the letter, Heath said he was in good spirits healthy and "not being tortured." He referenced part of the 'Marines' Hymn,' writing: “I am the first to fight for rights and freedom and to keep my honor clean."
“It was a relief to see a letter in his handwriting," Haynes said.
Heath’s been speaking with an attorney in Venezuela. It shows progress, but a long road ahead.
“There’s a lot of domestic turmoil there. That gives me a cause of concern for Matthew and his safety," said Fleischmann. “We’re going to make sure we use every means legally available”
Fleischmann has been working diligently with Heath’s family.
“I’ve committed to his family to continue to do this until we get him home safely,” he said.
This week he wrote a letter to the new Secretary of State relaying the importance.
“He’s actually in prison in Venezuela without any due process rights and a lot of problems going on. I wanted to make sure I highlighted this to the incoming administration," said Fleischmann.
Heath’s family wonders what else can be done.
“He knows we’re all working as hard as we can and the government is working as hard as they can. It has to bring some comfort to him," said Heath's aunt Trudy Rutherford.
They’re staying busy raising money to help him through a fundraising site. It goes toward the attorney, supplies and taking care of Heath's son.
“His personal items, food, medication, just alone monthly that’s $300," said Rutherford.
Each update brings more hope, but they know this journey also comes with patience.
They're asking people to write letters to Heath to give him hope. You can send one to his father's email address, firstname.lastname@example.org, who will then pass it along to the attorney.