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Lansing native Taylor Dudley expected back in Michigan soon after being deported from

LANSING – A Lansing man who was detained in Russia in April and was released Thursday will likely be back in Michigan soon, a spokesman for the family said.

Taylor Dudley, 35, was attending backpacking near Poland’s border with Russia in April and attending a music festival when he crossed into Russia.

A family spokesman said Dudley’s release was not a prison exchange but rather a deportation.

His detention was not public knowledge until his deportation, an intentional decision during the roughly six months of negotiations, according to those who worked on Dudley’s behalf.

Dudley appeared Friday in Washington, D.C., with people who helped him get released, including former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, Jonathan Franks of Los Angeles-based Lucid Public Relations and Richardson Center for Global Diplomacy Vice President and Executive Director Mickey Bergman.

Franks, a spokesman for Dudley’s family, said it was a rare circumstance of an American crossing a border and he expects Dudley to be back in Michigan within the next week as he works to recover from his ordeal.

“He feels lucky to be home in the U.S.,” Franks said.

Franks, who has worked on the release of other Americans held abroad, said it is unusual for someone to be willing to speak publicly so soon after their release. He said Dudley was treated well in detention.

The deportation after being accused of illegally entering Russia is an indication that Dudley was not seen as a threat, Franks said.

Dudley was detained in Kaliningrad, a Russian province far from Moscow.

The Richardson Center said in a statement Thursday that Dudley was released at the Russia-Poland Bagrationovsk-Bezledy border crossing and was flying home with Richardson’s team and his mother, Shelley VanConant. 

He participated in a press conference in Washington, D.C. Friday morning.

Staff from The Richardson Center traveled to Moscow and the region where Dudley was held “multiple times, liaising with our Russian counterparts and conduits,” the nonprofit said in its statement. The nonprofit negotiates for the release of prisoners and hostages held by hostile countries or criminal organizations on behalf of families at no cost to the families.

Richardson and his staff worked closely with Taylor’s family – his mother, Shelley, his brother Louis and his aunt, Jennifer over the last six months, according to the statement. 

Those negotiations were “done discreetly and with engagement on the ground in both Moscow and Kaliningrad and with full support from Taylor’s family back in the United States,” the statement added.

“It is significant that despite the current environment between our two countries, the Russian authorities did the right thing by releasing Taylor today. And as we celebrate Taylor’s safe return, we remain very concerned for Paul Whelan and committed to continue to work on his safe return, as we have been for the last four years, as well as other Americans,” Richardson said.

Two other Americans have been released from Russian detention in the past year, former Marine Trevor Reed and professional basketball star Brittney Greiner. Another prominent Russian detention is that of Paul Whelen, a Novi man, former Marine and head of global security for auto supplier BorgWarner.

Whelen has been jailed for more than four years and the efforts for his release are often public, including a failed effort to release him with Greiner in December.

The Washington Post reported that a Biden administration official said the fact that Dudley was deported was a “signal that his release was not equivalent to earlier swaps and may have little bearing” on Whelen’s situation.

Following the release of Dudley, the Foley Foundation asked the Biden administration “to keep relentlessly pressing for the swift release of Paul Whelan.”

Richardson said Friday that he is encouraged at every release of Americans and every time negotiations happen is a chance to work for Whelen’s release.

There are 60 Americans listed as hostages or wrongfully detained abroad, according to the James Foley Foundation. Franks said the real number is likely three times higher, because many detentions like Dudley’s are kept quiet at the request of families or negotiators.

Contact Mike Ellis at mellis@lsj.com or on Twitter @MikeEllis_AIM

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