Mother: American arrested in Venezuela is not a terrorist or anti-government agent

The mother of a U.S. citizen arrested in Venezuela on charges of attempted murder and arms trafficking said her son is not a terrorist or an anti-government agent as authorities portray him. Rather, she said, he’s a frightened man who speaks little Spanish, requires anti-anxiety medication and may have shot someone in self-defense.

Todd Michael Leininger, 32, who was born in Miami but has been living in Indiana for the last 20 years, was arrested early this week after he apparently shot a man in San Cristóbal, in the western border state of Táchira. State Gov. José Gregorio Vielma Mora has painted Leininger as an international agent with a criminal past who was in Venezuela as part of deadly anti-government protests.

In a telephone interview from Bloomington, the suspect’s mother, Barbara Leininger, said her son traveled from Indiana to San Cristóbal with his Venezuelan wife last week. His only plan, she said, was to take his sister-in-law household goods such as toilet paper, which have become hard-to-find amid Venezuela’s economic crisis.

Barbara Leininger said she was able to briefly speak to her son after his arrest. He admitted shooting someone but said that it had been in self defense.

“My son did feel like he was threatened and he was protecting himself and his family,” she said. The suspect’s wife has also been arrested in the case.

Barbara Leininger said that her son has Tourette’s syndrome and obsessive-compulsive disorder, which requires anti-anxiety medication. She said he was worried about getting food and his medicine in jail.

Early this week, Venezuelan authorities announced they had detained Leininger after he shot a man in the chest who they identified as Jorge Santos Sandoval. The state-run news agency said Santos was recovering from the injury and people familiar with the case say he was Leininger’s neighbor.

On Wednesday, Leininger and his wife, hooded and handcuffed, were presented to the press and photographed in front of an arsenal that Gov. Vielma Mora said was found at the house where they were staying. The weapons included a .22 and .40-caliber handgun and three .22-caliber rifles — including one with a telescopic site, authorities said. Camouflage clothing was also confiscated.

Vielma Mora said there was proof that Leininger was being paid by anti-government foes and suggested he was an international criminal.

Barbara Leininger said her son, who is currently unemployed, had no criminal record.

“He is not in any way connected to terrorists, any organization and doesn’t work for the government,” she said. “If you knew these kids and you weren’t crying, you would have to laugh because these allegations are the stupidest thing ever.”

The family is working with the U.S. Department of State and lawyers in Venezuela.

Read more Americas stories from the Miami Herald

  • Haiti

    U.S. lawmakers to Haitian Senate: Vote for election law

    A bipartisan group of 15 members of the U.S. Congress have written to Haitian Senate President Simon Desras calling on senators to pass the legislation necessary for long overdue elections to take place this year.

A supporter of Haiti's former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide holds up a picture of him, while demonstrating in front of his house during a protest in his support, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014. Supporters of the former president have been blocking the street in front of his house as the popular former leader faces possible arrest for not providing court-ordered testimony in a criminal investigation.


    Despite election delays, Aristide remains focus

    Defying a judge’s order, opposition leaders in Haiti plan to visit former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was put under house arrest last week as part of an ongoing criminal investigation.

This is a still released April 27, 2007 by the U.S. State Department, date and location unknown, which shows alleged senior al-Qaida operative Abdul al Hadi al Iraqi.


    Iraqi captive at Guantánamo gets Marine lawyer who invaded Iraq

    An Iraqi prisoner at Guantánamo accused of running al-Qaida’s army in Afghanistan got a new military attorney — a U.S. Marine who was part of a battalion that invaded Iraq while his client was allegedly leading illicit forces that killed U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category