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Judicial Watch, Inc. is a conservative, non-partisan educational foundation, which promotes transparency, accountability and integrity in government, politics and the law.

Judicial Watch, Inc. is a conservative, non-partisan educational foundation, which promotes transparency, accountability and integrity in government, politics and the law.

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Judicial Watch Sues State Department for Records Related to Imprisonment of U.S. Citizen James Vincent Wilgus in Russia

(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch announced today it filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the U.S. State Department for all records related to why the department has not issued a “wrongful” detention designation for Jimmy Wilgus, a U.S. citizen sentenced to 12.5 years in a Russian penal colony on allegedly false charges based on a forced confession and fabricated evidence(Judicial Watch, Inc. v. U.S. Department of State (No. 1:24-cv-01879).

On November 7, 2016, Wilgus, an American musician living in Russia with his Russian wife, was arrested and charged with indecent exposure in an area in Russia that Wilgus’s family said he has never visited, according to a March 31, 2023, report by CBS’s WUSA9 cited by Judicial Watch in the lawsuit.

Judicial Watch filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia after the State Department failed to respond to a February 27, 2024, FOIA request for: 

All records related to the detention of American citizen James Vincent Wilgus in Russia. This request includes, but is not limited to, all records related to the proposed designation of Mr. Wilgus’ detention as “wrongful” as defined by the Robert Levinson Hostage Recovery and Hostage-Taking Accountability Act and all related records of communication between any official or employee of the Department of State and any other individual or entity.

The CBS news report titled “The Forgotten American” details:

Jimmy Wilgus, a musician from New Jersey, was in Russia in 2016 working on a movie soundtrack with a Russian film director when he was ambushed and thrown into a van…. His parents, Jim and Bella Wilgus, say their son was helping his stepdaughter get into a taxi just moments before he was grabbed…. The Wilgus family say Jimmy was forced to sign confession papers for a crime he did not commit.… The family says witnesses testified claiming Jimmy committed a crime in an area of Russia he had never even visited…. Jimmy Wilgus was sentenced to 12 years in prison after a reportedly closed-door trial, where his mother claims the [U.S.] embassy was not even allowed to attend.

Wilgus is being held in IK-17, a penal colony in Mordovia, Russia.

According to Radio Free Europe, since Wilgus was imprisoned, there reportedly have been at least nine other Americans detained by Russia and two notable prisoner swaps between the United States and Russia involving Americans detained well after his imprisonment. According to the report, there are discussions about other prisoner swaps, however, Wilgus is not among those mentioned in the article.

In a March 24, 2023, op-ed for the New York Post, Wilgus’s parents, James and Bella Wilgus, stated:

“We’re proud to say IK-17 has failed to break Jimmy’s spirit and will — but it has destroyed his health. He now suffers from a spinal issue, osteochondrosis, as well as a failing liver and hypertension that wasn’t present prior to his incarceration.”

“Jimmy Wilgus, who may very well die in captivity in a Russian prison, deserves support from the State Department,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “And the State Department’s refusal to turn over records about the agency’s handling of Wilgus’s case is concerning to say the least.”

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