MIAMI (CBSMiami) — A South Florida man held in a Middle East prison for more than two months is finally free.
Matthew Gonzalez was swarmed by reporters at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport Friday.
“I got put on the plane in shackles and handcuffs and I just got off to this,” he said. “So it’s surreal. Overwhelming.”
The Coconut Grove resident, who goes by Matty and is a musician and information technology worker, was sent to Abu Dhabi in mid-April to work on a cruise ship. He never made it to the ship.
After entering the United Arab Emirates, he was detained because he didn’t have a prescription in hand for his pain medications. From there he was sent to prison for nine weeks.
“He went there innocently,” said Gonzalez’s nephew, Sebastian Mallens, 17. “He only went there to work, to make money. He’s a good guy.”
Though his sister, Nicole Denil, had travelled to Abu Dhabi several times to provide documentation for the prescription, Gonzalez was still sentenced to two years in a desert prison.
The family had hoped President Donald Trump, who recently met with the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, could intervene. But South Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said she made a case with the embassy in Washington.
“I talked to the U.S. embassy officials and Ambassador (Yousef Al) Otaiba, who’s a good friend and he’s been working with me to resolve this matter. And, unfortunately, what happens is, many times U.S. citizens traveling abroad innocently are unaware of local laws. They inadvertently run afoul of authorities, so I urge all Americans visiting other countries to familiarize themselves with the laws applicable to them before traveling.”
Gonzalez and his sister flew into Chicago on their way to Wisconsin, where the family has gathered for their mother’s funeral.