Three brothers from Delray Beach, imprisoned for more than a month in the Dominican Republic for a crime they insist they did not commit, were released Friday, according to family members and lawyers.
Lovensky, Lonelson, and John Nalus were arrested in early August and charged with transporting a large brick of what the Dominican Republic National Police believed was marijuana, according to arrest records, accounts from a police officer, and information from family.
CBS12 News first reported on their arrest in an exclusive story Thursday.
On Friday, a judge declared parts of the arrest to be unconstitutional and freed the young men from jail, according to an attorney representing the brothers. They must remain in the Dominican Republic for roughly the next two months as an investigation into the drugs continues.
It all started during a vacation when a rental car carrying five men, including the three brothers, broke down on the side of a highway near Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic.
Cell phone video sent to family members in the United States and obtained by CBS12 News shows the young men attempting to repair the broken engine by pouring bottles of motor oil into it.
Eventually, the car was towed to a nearby rest stop, where a mechanic claimed he found a brick of marijuana, wrapped in brown packaging somewhere inside the car’s engine compartment, according to a police officer present and a report in the Dominican Republic newspaper El Nacional.
The men strongly denied the brick was theirs, claiming that it was planted or in the car prior to them renting the vehicle. All five men were arrested when police arrived on scene.
“I don’t know where the drugs came from, but I just can’t believe that they had anything to do with it,” attorney and family friend Randy Kurtz said. “My initial thought was, 'I might never see [John] again.' I mean this is an offense that carries a five to 20 year penalty.”
Family members tell CBS12 News they do not believe any of the occupants of the car are guilty of smuggling drugs, saying the fact that they allowed the mechanic to inspect and fix the car is proof of their innocence.
Cory Strolla, a criminal defense attorney in West Palm Beach, said he would be surprised to see a prosecutor in the U.S. bring similar charges for drugs found in a rental car. He added that a U.S. prosecutor would likely have to prove the brothers were in possession of the drugs and that they were not just left in the rental car.
“There’s no way I think an ethical prosecutor would look at that and say ‘no we’re going to convict it just on that basis," he said.
CBS12 News reached out to a Dominican Republic National Police officer who arrest records show was at the scene when the brothers were arrested. He said a mechanic found the package of suspected drugs near the transmission in the rental car, adding that he believed the mechanic had no motive to lie or plant the drugs.
CBS12 News asked the officer if the drugs could have been in the engine compartment of the car prior to the young men renting it. He responded that it was possible.
“This is a kid who's done everything right,” lamented Kurtz. “A kid who it's not been easy [for].”
Calix Nalus, the young men's father, also doesn’t believe his sons were involved in anything illegal.
“They never drank. They never smoke. They are very nice kids,” he told CBS12 News as a relative translated.