Family says Goodyear woman imprisoned in Mexico is innocent - FOX 10 News | myfoxphoenix.com

Family says Goodyear woman imprisoned in Mexico is innocent

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PHOENIX -

A valley woman is locked up in a Mexican jail facing serious charges. Her family says this is all a big mistake, and the Mormon mother is wrongly accused of smuggling drugs.

So how did she get caught up in this international mess, waiting for her name to be cleared?

Yannira Maldonado was in Mexico for a family funeral when the bus she and her husband were on was stopped and searched by federales. The federales ordered everyone off the bus when they searched it -- then claimed to find 12 pounds of marijuana under her seat.

After the hearing in Nogales Monday morning, Yannira Maldonado remains in a jail in Nogales on drug smuggling charges.

Her family is stunned, saying the marijuana was not hers, which is hard to prove in a legal system where you are guilty until proven innocent.

The 42-year-old Goodyear woman and her husband Gary traveled to Hermosillo using the Tufesa Busline, based here in Phoenix.

According to Maldonado's father-in-law, the couple thought it was safer to go by bus to Hermosillo for Yannira's aunt's funeral. But on the way back, at a checkpoint in Hermosillo, Yannira and Gary Maldonado were pulled aside and accused of smuggling drugs.

Yannira has been a U.S. citizen for 17 years, and according to her father-in-law, she would never use or smuggle drugs. Yannira is a mother of 7 and has no criminal history.

"She's never been in trouble with the law. A model mom, she's a model citizen. Just as nice as can be and has never been involved in anything illegal. We're just praying that she'll come home and we can use any help we can get," says father-in-law Larry Maldonado.

Larry Maldonado is heading to Nogales Monday evening to be with his son and to be a witness for his daughter-in-law at a hearing Tuesday morning. He says this is all very frightening and frustrating, and that Yannira is very frightened understandably.

"It's a huge misunderstanding, it's a nightmare for our family," says Brandon Klippel, Yannira's brother-in-law.

"I keep repeating myself but she is one strong woman," says Ana Soto, Yannira's daughter. Soto visited her mother in the jail in Nogales, Sonora. "I am [worried]… she kind of set me at ease when I saw her… she has not been harmed."

We asked Klippel if he believed the drugs were planted – if Yannira may have been targeted because she was American.

"I think it could be any of the above. We don't know if there were drugs ever on the bus in the first place. You hear about people in Mexico all the time being kidnapped or being held until they get money… so my first reaction is this was one of those cases. Maybe they look like someone who could get some money quick, or maybe there truly were drugs underneath their seat," says Klippel.

She's facing up to 10 years in a Mexican prison. Tuesday's hearing will be in front of a judge, and according to the family, the judge will decide if there is enough evidence to proceed. The judge does have the power to throw the case out and let her go.

Senator Jeff Flake's office has gotten involved, and is trying to help. His office said Monday, "Senator Flake is personally monitoring the situation and he has had multiple conversations with the deputy Mexican ambassador this weekend."

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