In the early hours of Nov. 5, 2019, after spending nearly two years in a federal United States prison, Neringa Venckiene was called to court, knowing she would not return.
"...I knew that since the Supreme Court has denied my appeal, there will be no more court hearings," said Venckiene, a former Lithuanian judge who fled to the United States and settled in Crystal Lake after exposing an alleged pedophile ring that she believed victimized her niece. "I asked one of the prison guards to check it out on his computer, and he told me that it doesn't show a return time. I instantly understood that I will be extradited that day."
Venckiene communicated with the Northwest Herald by email and explained in detail her experience being extradited from the United States, and life in Lithuania since her return.
Without a chance to make her case at an asylum hearing, Venckiene arrived back in her native country on Nov. 6. Her family, including her son and McHenry County resident Karolis Venckus, had long voiced fears of political persecution if Venckiene was returned to Lithuania. There, dozens of charges, including spying on the government and lying about officials, awaited her.
"I wrote a goodbye message to Karolis and friends and family. Late in the evening, I was boarded on a [plane] to Warsaw, Poland and then driven by car to a prison in Lithuania," Venckiene said. "We got there only the next day, very late in the evening."
Events surrounding Venckiene's opposition to the alleged pedophilia ring included the slaying of another judge whom some believe molested Venckiene's niece; and the death of Venckiene’s brother, who leveled the initial child abuse accusation and was a suspect in the murder.
Venckiene moved to Crystal Lake with her son in 2013 after she outed the alleged pedophilia ring that also allegedly involved her then-4-year-old niece.
Venckiene previously was granted custody of the girl, but later was ordered to return her to her mother, one of her immigration attorneys, Mark Davidson, wrote in a July 24 letter to the U.S. Department of State. Despite several attempts to facilitate what Davidson called a “peaceful transfer” of custody, the girl refused to leave Venckiene out of fear of molestation, the attorney wrote. During a startling May 2012 police raid, most of which was captured on video, Lithuanian officers forcibly removed Venckiene's niece from the former judge's arms, and carried the young girl away, without shoes, into a white van with black-tinted windows.
Venckiene had no indication about her nieces whereabouts as of Friday.
"Since May 17th of 2012, when [my niece] was forcefully taken, I have not seen her," Venckiene said. "I think about her everyday - if she's alive, if she is - how she's doing, how she's holding up. I don't know anything about her at all."
Since Venckiene's return to Lithuania, she has been released on a 10,000 euro bond and is under Vilnius Regional Court supervision, according to LRT News.
"Although I was released from prison, my documents were taken away, I had to pay a 10,000 euro bond and an ankle monitor was put on my leg. These kinds of remedies are almost unheard of," Venckiene said. "I spent 21 months in prison in the United States, I was detained for another 2 in Lithuania (although released early) for 'crimes' for which prison time is not even sanctioned."
Since her return, the majority of people have treated Venckiene well, but the treatment by the Lithuanian government is a different story, she said.
"After the extradition from the United States, the Lithuanian government's hands have been tied, they couldn't level additional charges against me. I thought that now they will have to follow the law, tell the truth to the public. But they continue to lie in the media," she said. "The prosecutors are hinting about new charges, they [are] lying in the media about the charges that the United States forced them to drop."
Venckiene has had the opportunity to read her case file, and believes the Lithuanian government submitted false information, including false testimonies and findings from medical experts, to the United States, she said.
"The Lithuanian government also refused to provide a video recording of my niece being taken away - a video recording of the crimes that I'm accused of," Venckiene said. "I have requested this classified video to be published many times, but I think the Lithuanian government is afraid that it will show who are the real criminals."
Video footage of the moments just before police forcibly removed Venckiene's niece from her arms has been posted online at Freeneringa.com.
The startling video shows the young girl seated in Venckiene's lap, the child's arms wrapped around her aunt's neck, reciting The Lord's Prayer in Lithuanian with a room full of bystanders.
Seconds later, Lithuanian authorities shattered Venckiene's glass door and entered the home. Outside, hundreds of protesters who had formed a protective circle around Venckiene's property, were dragged off and carried away by police.
"For me, like for many, child sexual abuse is one of the most horrific crimes," Venckiene said. "[The young girl] was my niece who I loved very much, and I think she believed until the last minute that I would be able to save her. I sacrificed everything, my quiet life, my career. But I just couldn't ignore what was happening. Karolis and I fled to the US only after [she] was taken away, only when I couldn't do anything else to help her."
Now separated by more than 5,000 miles, Venckus and Venckiene continue to speak daily and hope to be reunited.
"I often think about my relatives and friends in the United States, but mostly I miss my son," Venckiene said. "I know that one day I will be able to meet with them and Karolis in US or Europe."