CARACAS, Venezuela — Defense lawyers for six American oil executives held for three years in Venezuela say a judge has found them guilty of corruption charges and immediately sentenced them to prison.
CITGO employees Tomeu Vadell, Gustavo Cardenas, Jorge Toledo, Alirio Jose Zambrano, Jose Luis Zambrano and Jose Angel Pereira were sentenced to between 8 and 13 years, according to CNN. Alirio Jose Zambrano was a Corpus Christi resident before his arrest. Jose Luis Zambrano is Alirio's brother.
The verdicts dashed the hopes of relatives for a quick release that would send the men home to the United States.
CNN reports that appeals will be made for the men.
Citgo said in a statement released late Thursday that company representatives have only seen media reports of their colleagues' conviction.
"While we do not have first-hand knowledge of these reported convictions, we are distressed to read about this outcome," the company said in a statement. "We continue to pray for them and their families and hope for a resolution that will lead to their prompt release. We also hope that the Venezuelan authorities honor the request of the United States Government that they be released."
The so-called Citgo 6 had been lured to Venezuela for three years ago for a business meeting and arrested.
They are employees of the Houston-based Citgo refining company, which is owned by Venezuela’s state oil company, PDVSA.
Attorneys and relatives of the executives say the men were wrongly convicted.
“We, the family, are heartbroken to be separated even further from our loved ones,” Alirio Rafael Zambrano, whose two brothers were among the defendants, told The Associated Press. “We pray that the leaders of our nation step forward and continue to fight unceasingly for their freedom and human rights.”
An attorney who represented three of the defendants called the judge's decision "void of any evidence."