With his mother’s looming extradition back to a country where she fears being tortured or killed, a 20-year-old Crystal Lake man tries to piece together a life.
Karolis Venckus began fall classes at McHenry County College last week, but fears of his mother’s fate and the uncertainty of his own future never are far from his thoughts.
“The first week was OK; classes seem OK,” Venckus said. “I’m thinking about transferring to Europe next year. [It] depends on how everything goes with my mom.”
While Venckus tries to lead the typical suburban life of a young adult, his mom, Neringa Venckiene, a former judge in Lithuania, remains in a jail cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Facility in Chicago.
Venckiene, 48, fled to the U.S. with her son in 2013 after exposing an alleged pedophilia ring and trying to save her young niece from alleged sexual assault.
Today, no one knows where that young girl is, and some connected to the case have been killed. Her lawyers are scrambling to submit yet another motion in her case, this time to the U.S. Supreme Court, in an effort to halt the extradition process and allow Venckiene her day in court to present her asylum case.
The case has drawn international attention over the years.
If returned to Lithuania, Venckiene faces dozens of charges for crimes such as spying, lying about officials, speaking out against the country and hitting a police officer as he grabbed the girl whom she was protecting from her arms.
After sharing his story with the Northwest Herald on Aug. 12, Venckus said he received an outpouring of support from strangers “in America and Lithuania, especially from Crystal Lake.”
He has been offered money, and at least one person offered to set up a GoFundMe page for him. Venckus did not take anyone up on these offers, saying although he “really appreciates” them, he did not want to “use the kindness of people.”
“A few said they read my mom’s story but never knew she lived here in Crystal Lake,” he said. “It was very nice and very kind and supportive, many offering money, [but] I don’t really want to abuse that, so I declined. But I was thankful for the offer.”
He said he also received a couple of “strange messages” from people in Lithuania who do not support his mother, accusing him of paying for the story to be written, which he did not do.
During recent visit with Venckiene, she said she was happy to hear people cared and are learning about her case.
“She seemed like she was at peace, ready for whatever is coming,” Venckus said in a text after the visit.
In the weeks to come, Venckus said he will be editing and translating a website and video he has produced, freeneringa.com, into other languages so her plight can be shared and understood by people around the world. So far, he has translated it into Korean, Hebrew and Dutch.
Mike Monico, one of Venckiene’s attorneys, said they plan on filing their motion with the U.S. Supreme Court next week. Monico said he never has seen a situation like this.
“This is terrible – absolutely terrible,” he said.
Venckiene’s cousin, Vilija Ball, who also lives in Crystal Lake, said there has been no movement in her case in recent weeks. Ball and her husband have been writing letters to the State Department, which she said ultimately has the power to stop Venckiene’s extradition.
In their letters, they list all of the dangers of sending her back, including her fears of being tortured or killed. These are points that are part of the United Nations’ Convention Against Torture, which could prohibit the U.S. from honoring the extradition treaty with Lithuania, Ball said.
“She is an asylum applicant who ran here asking to be protected,” Ball said. “The State Department has the power to stop the extradition, but they approved it in April of 2018. They seem vested in sending her back. I don’t understand why they are closing their eyes to her case. We are getting the sense that no one is paying attention.”
Calls and emails sent by the Northwest Herald to the State Department only received responses that all communications should be directed to the Department of Justice and the Department of Human Resources. Emails and calls to those offices were not returned.
New Jersey Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., and former U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren each have written bills to Congress asking that Venckiene not be extradited and be given her asylum hearing.
Linas Kevlicius, 46, of Chicago, who fled to the U.S. 23 years ago to escape what he called the “corrupt” Lithuanian government, does not know Venckiene personally, but he said he has followed her story closely.
He has been a part of protests in Venckiene’s name, including one outside the Lithuanian World Center in Lemont before she came to the U.S. in 2010. A crowd of Lithuanians filled the streets and shouted at then-Lithuania President Dalia Grybauskaite, who had visited the center. The crowd held signs and chanted “shame,” “justice for Neringa” and “save Deimante.” Deimante is the name of the little girl Venckiene tried to protect.
Kevlicius fears for Venckiene’s life should she be returned.
He said the Lithuanian government especially fears Venckiene because she is “too smart to get silenced,” which puts her in even more danger, he said.
“She is an inconvenience,” he said. “Sooner or later, they are going to get rid of her. They are gonna make sure she doesn’t come back to court.”
For now, Venckus, who has said he may go to law school, is focusing on his classes – speech, political science, Spanish and film. He also is planning for his next train ride to downtown Chicago to visit his mom.
Venckus has one request of those who want to help.
“I would appreciate if people would call their local representatives and tell them about the story,” he said.