North Korea detainee Jeff Fowle close to losing job

Published: Monday, September 01, 2014 @ 8:52 AM
Updated: Monday, September 01, 2014 @ 8:52 PM

            A West Carrollton man detained in North Korea said his family is the biggest thing on his mind right now in an exclusive interview with CNN.
A West Carrollton man detained in North Korea said his family is the biggest thing on his mind right now in an exclusive interview with CNN.

UPDATED: Jeff Fowle, the Moraine street department worker held for nearly four months in North Korea, is close to losing his job because of his prolonged absence, the city manager said Monday.

In an internationally televised interview from North Korea on Labor Day, Fowle, 56, expressed concern about his job and his family. During the CNN interview, Fowle said he was being treated well, but becoming increasingly desperate about losing the job he has held for about 26 years in Moraine.

"If this goes beyond the end of September, then I'm in grave danger of losing my job. That's when my vacation benefits run out and I'll be out of a job and Tatyana will be out of an income. My kids might be out on the street. Our house is paid for but there's all kinds of expenses," Fowle said during the interview.

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The West Carrollton man has been held since his arrest on May 7 for leaving a Bible in a nightclub in the northern port city of Chongjin. Christian proselytizing is considered a crime in North Korea.

Fowle's wife,Tatyana, and children, Alex, 13; Chris, 11; and Stephanie, 9; continue to live on a small farm in West Carrollton.

The city of Moraine needs Fowle to return quickly or face termination, City Manager Dave Hicks said.

"We're going to have to do something with that pretty soon," he said. "At some point, we can't let this go on forever."

Hicks said he had suggested officials from Fowle's union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, apply for a pension for Fowle to support his family.

The city needs someone working in Fowle's position, the city manager said.

"He's there because he chose to go there," Hicks said. "Everyone's accountable for the decisions we make."

Hicks also said he has worked with the union to ensure the city's handling of Fowle's situation is considered an anomaly, rather than setting a precedent the city would be expected to follow if other employees had prolonged absences.

Fowle is one of three Americans being detained by the North Korean government. The others are Kenneth Bae and Matthew Todd Miller.

Fowle says he's asked for forgiveness

Fowle told CNN, "I've admitted my guilt to the government and signed a statement to that effect, and I've also put in a request for forgiveness from the people and the government."

"You guys should convey my desperate situation," Fowle said, adding he was staying in a hotel suite and being treated well. "I hope and pray that continues whether I'm here two more days or two more decades, whatever the case is."

"I'll come home as soon as I can. My family is the biggest thing on my mind right now. I've got a wife and three elementary school-aged kids that depend on me for support and my mother-in-law is staying with us too, so there are six of us in my household," Fowle said, adding he was the family's primary bread winner.

Fowle's family has been assisted by their congregation at Urbancrest Baptist Church in Warren County. The church pastor, Rev. Tom Pendergass said the church was working "behind the scenes" to help the family, but declined further comment.

"The kids are helping as much as they can but stuff is piling up. I need to get back to doing what I do around the house there, getting back to work. Hopefully that job will be open when I get back soon," Fowle said. He, Bae and Miller were interviewed by CNN and the Associated Press.

Fowle calls for Clinton, Bush to help

The U.S. State Department has been conveying messages between Fowle and his family, he said. He also expressed appreciation for work by the Swedish embassy and the Russian government, indicating his wife is part Russian and carries dual citizenship.

The Russian government has responded to his wife's letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Fowle said.

"I'm good for the time being but I need to let people know I'm getting desperate. I'm getting desperate for help," he said, urging former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush to help negotiate his release and the release of Bae and Miller.

U.S. officials indicated they continued to monitor all three cases and appealed to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) for their release. In North Korea, the Embassy of Sweden acts as protecting power for U.S. citizens in North Korea, U.S. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said in an email.

"We are in regular, close coordination with representatives of the Embassy of Sweden" Psaki said.

Swedish officials visited Fowle on June 20, Miller on May 9 and June 21 and Bae 12 times since his detention, according to the State Department.

"There is no greater priority for us than the welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad. Out of humanitarian concern for Jeffrey Fowle, Matthew Miller and their families, we request the DPRK release them so they may return home. We also request the DPRK pardon Kenneth Bae and grant him special amnesty and immediate release so he may reunite with his family and seek medical care. We continue to work actively to secure these three U.S. citizens' release," Psaki said.

Local members of Congress are keeping a close eye on the Fowle situation.

"We continue to be in close contact with the State Department and are monitoring the situation closely," U.S. Rep Mike Turner, R-Dayton, said in an email Monday.

National Security Council spokesman Patrick Ventrell said, "Securing the release of U.S. citizens is a top priority and we have followed these cases closely in the White House. We continue to do all we can to secure their earliest possible release."

Ventrell noted that the State Department has issued a travel warning recommending against all travel to North Korea for U.S. citizens.

Staff Writer Lauren Clark and the Associated Press contributed to this report.