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AZ Husband, Daughter Work To Free Mom From Mexico Jail

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Phoenix, AZ (KPHO) — A Goodyear couple traveled to Mexico last week to attend a family funeral.

But the return trip to Arizona turned into a nightmare – and it’s not over yet for Gary and Yanira Maldonado.

Yanira Maldonado is in a Mexican jail, accused of smuggling marijuana.

CBS 5 News spoke with the Gary Maldonado’s brother-in-law, Brandon Klippel.

Klippel said the Maldonados were the only U.S. citizens on the bus – and if pot was truly found on board, it was already there when the couple sat down.

“You hear all of these horror stories about Mexico and you think it’s just something in the movies, right?” said Klippel. “You don’t believe it’s something that could happen to someone you know. But, when it happens to your brother and your sister – it’s hard, it’s tough to take.”

He said the bus the Maldonados were on was stopped at a military checkpoint near Hermosillo on Wednesday.

The couple, with seven children and two grandchildren between them, were on their way back to Arizona after attending a funeral for Yanira Maldonado’s aunt.

“They interviewed several of the other passengers and after about 2 1/2 hours they came to him (Gary) and said, ‘Unfortunately some of these drugs were found under your seat and you’re under arrest,'” Klippel said.

After arresting Gary Maldonado, Mexican officials said they’d made a mistake – that marijuana was actually found underneath Yanira Maldonado’s seat and an empty seat next to her.

Gary Maldonado was released and they arrested his wife – something that has terrified their 21-year-old daughter, Anna Soto, who spoke with CBS 5 News on Sunday.

“I know there’s people out there saying or asking, ‘Did she really do it?'” she said. “‘Are you sure?’ And, you know, it hurts to see that. If you would’ve known my mom, if you would’ve met her – you would know she had nothing to do with it.”

And then there’s the concern of who to trust in a foreign country.

“His attorney had talked to the prosecuting attorney there and came back to him and said, ‘You know how it works in Mexico, right?” Klippel told CBS 5 News. “He said, ‘No I don’t.’ He [attorney] said, ‘Well, if we bribe the judge – then he’ll let you go.'”

Klippel said Gary Maldonado frantically scraped together $5,000 to free his wife Thursday, but he was told it was too late.

Yanira Maldonado had been transferred to a holding facility in Nogales.

“When he [Gary] got there they said, ‘We don’t have any record of her at all,'” Klippel said. “He panicked. He told me terror struck him. And he thought, for that period of time, that he’d never see his wife again.”

That was Friday morning.

By Friday night, officials confirmed Yanira Maldonado was, in fact, in Nogales – and her husband was able to visit her Saturday morning on the one-year anniversary of their wedding.

“Yanira saw me from a distance and she just started like jumping up and down and gave me a big hug and we just cried,” said Gary Maldonado, who spoke with CBS 5 News via Skype on Sunday.

Klippel said the reunion was a major relief for the couple – especially after what Yanira had been through in the past 24 hours.

“She had a rough night,” he said. “Their interrogation included putting her in a non-air-conditioned room and waking her up several times in the middle of night – trying to get her to sign documents that she said she couldn’t read.”

He said Yanira Maldonado maintains her innocence and believes those documents were probably admission of guilt statements.

“In Mexico, I guess you’re guilty until proven innocent,” said Klippel. “So, it’s just been a real nightmare for them.”

Klippel said the Mexican Consulate is working this case and that Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake is in contact with the family, in an effort to bring Yanira Maldonado home.

A family friend tells CBS 5 News a judge has granted her an extension so she can present witnesses to her case. That is said to take place on Friday.

Gary Maldonado said they have a woman and her son who can testify they saw they couple enter the bus without any packages – and he’s hoping the charter bus company Tufesa will have surveillance video they can also use as evidence.

CBS 5 News is waiting to hear back from the Mexican Consulate and the U.S. Embassy’s Office.

Flake’s office sent us the following statement: “Senator Flake is personally monitoring the situation and he has had multiple conversations with the deputy Mexican ambassador.”

A Facebook page has been set up in support of Yanira.

By Rebecca Thomas, Lindsey Reiser

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