By MICHAEL TARM
AP Legal Affairs Writer
CHICAGO (AP) – The U.S. Department of State has denied a request by a former Lithuanian judge and parliamentarian to intervene to stop her extradition from a Chicago jail to the Baltic Sea nation, where she says she could be killed for exposing an alleged ring of influential pedophiles.
Neringa Venckiene, who worked as a suburban Chicago florist before her February arrest, could be removed from a high-rise lockup at any time and flown back to Lithuania, according to court filings this week disclosing the decision not to step in.
“This is very, very disturbing,” attorney Michael Monico said Thursday about that decision. “She is a totally harmless person.” Her legal team made an urgent request Wednesday for a U.S. judge to stay her extradition, and Monico said they were reviewing all their options.
The 47-year-old recently told The Associated Press from jail in her first interview since fleeing Lithuania in 2013 that she feared she’ll be killed by people in Lithuania she angered over the accusations of pedophilia. She added: “I never want to go back to Lithuania.”
The events that eventually landed her behind bars in Chicago enthralled and divided Lithuanians for years. They included several deaths under disputed circumstances and her election to parliament in 2012 on a wave of support for an anti-pedophilia party.
An April 23 letter from the State Department informed her lawyers that Under Secretary for Political Affairs Thomas Shannon decided to “authorize Ms. Venckiene’s surrender” under an extradition treaty. The letter, filed in federal court Wednesday, offered no details.
Venckiene fled Lithuania with her then 13-year-old son as charges were drafted against her, including refusal to comply with court orders and slander for accusing several people of molesting kids. Her lawyers say her alleged crimes would be, at worst, misdemeanors in the U.S.
Legal options are strictly limited in extraditions, unlike in criminal cases when defendants can pursue appeals to higher courts for months or even years. The April 23 State Department letter warned Venckiene’s lawyers she “may be subject to surrender at any time hereafter.”
A hearing is scheduled for May 1 in Chicago, where U.S. Magistrate Judge Daniel Martin will consider the motion for a stay.
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