Chaya Weinberger often lies awake at night as she thinks about her father languishing for more than a year in a notorious Bolivian prison on what are widely believed to be trumped-up accusations.
“The hardest part has been knowing he’s suffering every minute he is there,” said the Lakewood resident.
“Here you wouldn’t even allow a guilty person to live in the standards he’s living in. He’s at risk of being killed every second he’s there.”
Her father, Jacob Ostreicher, a 53-year-old flooring contractor from Brooklyn, is locked in Palmasola Prison in Santa Cruz, without charges. Bolivian law allows a person to be held without charges up to 18 months.
Ostreicher was arrested a year ago by Bolivian police after it was alleged that he did business with individuals engaged in drug trafficking and money laundering. Ostreicher belonged to a group of investors that sunk $25 million into growing rice in lush eastern Bolivia.
On June 6 the House Subcommittee on Human Rights, chaired by Rep. Chris Smith (R-Dist. 4), whose district includes parts of Mercer, Ocean and Monmouth countries, held a hearing on the Ostreicher case. On June 11, Smith met with Ostreicher at the prison, held a press conference, and met with Bolivian officials during a weeklong visit.
Smith said the investigative work of former FBI agent Steve Moore, who helped clear Amanda Knox of murder charges in Italy, made it evident to him that Ostreicher was being framed by a corrupt political system.
“An innocent man is languishing in prison and no one will help him,” Smith told NJJN in a phone conversation June 27 from the floor of the House. “I decided to go there for Jacob’s court hearing. He has had 17 court hearings. The family has gotten word from the State Department they should keep a low profile. But, they [the family] later realized obscurity makes the situation worse for Jacob.”
New York senators Charles Schumer and Kristen Gillibrand and congressional representatives Jerrold Nadler and Nydia Velazquez have written an open letter to the Bolivian government calling for Ostreicher to be granted bail.
“It’s a prison run by inmates,” said Weinberger in a phone interview. Her voice often broke as she spoke of Ostreicher, a father of five and grandfather of 11, who has been on a hunger strike since April 15 in an effort to draw attention to his case. She last saw him the end of March. “Inmates are just dumped there without a roof over their heads and have to fend for themselves.”
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