Ex-Employee Sues CITGO Over Abandonment During Five-Year Venezuelan Prison Ordeal

HOUSTON – Former CITGO employee Tomeu Vadell and his family have filed a lawsuit in Harris County court against CITGO Petroleum Corporation for using him as a political pawn and abandoning him during his horrific five-year incarceration and torture at Venezuelan hands despite his innocence.

“What happened to Tomeu Vadell and his family is unthinkable,” said Houston attorney Rusty Hardin, who represents the Lake Charles, La. resident and his family. “That CITGO, his employer of more than 20 years, let an employee they knew to be innocent languish in a Venezuelan prison under dreadful conditions for five years is barbaric.”

Mr. Vadell, one of the so-called “Citgo 6,” was lured with his colleagues to Venezuela in 2017 under the pretense of attending a meeting of PDVSA, the Venezuelan state-owned company that is majority owner of Houston-based CITGO Petroleum Corporation. All six were imprisoned until negotiations between the U.S. and Venezuelan governments led to the release of one executive in March 2022 and the remaining five, including Mr. Vadell, in October 2022.

“We have laid out in his lawsuit all the ways CITGO was grossly negligent by abandoning Mr. Vadell and his family, knowing full well he was being held in a dungeon, tortured and starved while being used as a political pawn,” said Rusty Hardin & Associates Partner Megan Moore, who has been assisting Mr. Vadell and his family since the beginning of Mr. Vadell’s wrongful detention in 2017.  “We are grateful that the American government got Mr. Vadell out of this hell. It is time for CITGO to be held responsible for conspiring to wrongfully imprison this American citizen.”

Mr. Vadell lost more than 70 pounds while unfairly imprisoned as his family worried back in the United States, unsupported by CITGO, which stopped paying his salary. Though he wants people to understand what happened to him and his colleagues, he said he loved working for CITGO until it literally delivered him to the Venezuelan government, did not defend him though knowing of his innocence, and left his family alone in an arduous fight for his freedom.

“We suffered a lot and continue to suffer,” Mr. Vadell said of himself and his family. He still expresses great admiration and respect for his co-workers at the company but wild disappointment for how he and his family were treated by the corporation.

Mr. Vadell was innocent of the charges made against him, and his work for the company had no connection to the allegations. His incarceration was clearly a political response to U.S. sanctions against Venezuela, Mr. Hardin said.

“My father is a survivor. What I saw was that CITGO delivered him and left him to die and they have not done enough,” said Mr. Vadell’s daughter Cristina. “We tried for years to get CITGO to work with us to get him out, but it took third parties, the government and finally the President of the United States.”

The lawsuit is Tomeu Vadell, Dennysse Vadell and Cristina Vadell v CITGO Petroleum Corporation filed in Harris County 334th District Court, case number 2023-17486. Plaintiffs seek in excess of $100 million in damages. A copy of the lawsuit can be found here.

Rusty Hardin & Associates, LLP has built a solid reputation for taking on the causes of its clients and obtaining favorable results in commercial litigation, white-collar criminal defense, plaintiffs’ personal injury (or cases), appellate matters, and general civil and criminal litigation. Visit https://www.rustyhardin.com/.

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April Arias



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