‘Citgo 6′ member files $100M lawsuit against company, claiming he was political pawn, abandoned during 5-year ordeal

The former employee’s suit shows before and after photos of his ordeal, outlines severe conditions of his imprisonment

Tomeu Vadell is the second from the right. This undated photo posted on Twitter on June 18, 2020 by Venezuela's Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza, shows CITGO oil executives Jose Angel Pereira, from left to right, Gustavo Cardenas, Jorge Toledo, Jose Luis Zambrano, Tomeu Vadell and Alirio Jose Zambrano, standing outside the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service, in Caracas, Venezuela. ((Posted on Twitter by Jorge Arreaza/Venezuela's Foreign Ministry via AP))

HOUSTON – Former Citgo employee Tomeu Vadell and his family filed a $100 million lawsuit on Tuesday in Harris County court against Citgo Petroleum Corporation, claiming he was used as a political pawn and abandoned by the company during his five-year incarceration and torture in Venezuela.

“What happened to Tomeu Vadell and his family is unthinkable,” Houston attorney Rusty Hardin said via a news release.

The lawsuit is Tomeu Vadell, Dennysse Vadell and Cristina Vadell versus Citgo Petroleum Corporation and was filed in Harris County 334th District Court. Vadell and his family seek in excess of $100 million in damages.

KPRC 2 reached out to Citgo for comment on the suit. This is the statement we received:

“We welcomed Mr. Vadell home and are grateful he’s back with his family. We greatly sympathize with Mr. Vadell for everything he and his family have been through. That said, we disagree with this lawsuit, which irresponsibly equates CITGO, an American company based in Houston, with an authoritarian regime in Venezuela. The CITGO 6 were our senior-most executives, and neither they nor CITGO, the company they led, are responsible for the arbitrary acts of Maduro’s repressive regime. CITGO’s leadership has supported Mr. Vadell and his family in significant financial and other ways.”

View the lawsuit below. Not showing up correctly? Look at it here.

Harden, who is representing Vadell, continued, “That Citgo, his employer of more than 20 years, let an employee they knew to be innocent languish in a Venezuelan prison under dreadful conditions for five years is barbaric.”

According to Hardin’s news release, Vadell -- one of the so-called “Citgo 6″ -- was lured with his colleagues to Venezuela in 2017 under the pretense of attending a meeting of PDVSA, the Venezuelan state-owned company that is majority owner of Houston-based Citgo Petroleum Corporation.

All six were imprisoned until negotiations between the U.S. and Venezuelan governments led to the release of one executive in March 2022 and the remaining five, including Vadell, in October 2022.

“We have laid out in his lawsuit all the ways Citgo was grossly negligent by abandoning Mr. Vadell and his family, knowing full well he was being held in a dungeon, tortured and starved while being used as a political pawn,” Rusty Hardin & Associates partner Megan Moore said via the news release.

“We are grateful that the American government got Mr. Vadell out of this hell,” Moore is quoted as saying. “It is time for Citgo to be held responsible for conspiring to wrongfully imprison this American citizen.”

Hardin’s office said Vadell, a native of Lake Charles, Louisiana, lost more than 70 pounds while imprisoned as his family worried back in the United States, unsupported by Citgo, which stopped paying his salary.

The lawsuit filing includes photos of Vadell before and after his ordeal, and even shows mailers about a weight loss program from the Citgo company that his family received while he was starving in Venezuela, according to the suit. The lawsuit also alleges for months Vadell had limited access to water and sunlight.

“Though he wants people to understand what happened to him and his colleagues, he said he loved working for CITGO until it literally delivered him to the Venezuelan government, did not defend him though knowing of his innocence, and left his family alone in an arduous fight for his freedom,” the news release reads. “Vadell still expresses great admiration and respect for his co-workers at the company but wild disappointment for how he and his family were treated by the corporation.”

“We suffered a lot and continue to suffer,” Vadell said of himself and his family, according to the news release.

“Vadell was innocent of the charges made against him, and his work for the company had no connection to the allegations,” Hardin is quoted as saying in the news release. “His incarceration was clearly a political response to U.S. sanctions against Venezuela.”

“My father is a survivor. What I saw was that Citgo delivered him and left him to die and they have not done enough,” said Vadell’s daughter Cristina. “We tried for years to get Citgo to work with us to get him out, but it took third parties, the government and finally the President of the United States.”

Related reporting:

At least one member of the ‘CITGO 6′ released from prison in Venezuela

Former CITGO interim president describes his experience being held captive in Venezuela

‘CITGO 6′ oil executives released to house arrest in Venezuela, report says

Family of Citgo 6 relieved men moved to house arrest

Families fight for release of Citgo 6

Despite guilty verdict, families continue to fight for the release of imprisoned oil executives

Daughter of imprisoned Citgo executive feels renewed hope for her father after his colleague’s release