Real Housewives of New Jersey star Joe Giudice has been living in an ICE facility since March after completing a prison sentence for mail, wire and bankruptcy fraud

By Dave Quinn and Emily Strohm
October 11, 2019 06:04 PM
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Joe Giudice has left the United States.

On Friday, the Real Housewives of New Jersey star was freed from ICE custody and flew to Rome, where he will continue to appeal his deportation order, PEOPLE confirms.

The father of four, 49, is “free” his lawyer James J. Leonard Jr. said in a statement to PEOPLE on Friday.

“He is en route to Italy right now. He spoke to Teresa and Gia from the plane and he is extremely happy to be released, more than words can describe,” the reality star’s lawyer continued.

“We are still fighting and it is his desire to return home to the United States to be reunited with his family.”

Joe Giudice
| Credit: Charles Sykes/Bravo/Getty

TMZ was first to report his departure plans for Friday night, with sources telling the outlet that the reality star would be flying economy.

Joe was denied his original request to be released to the New Jersey home he shares with wife Teresa Giudice and their four daughters: Gia, 18, Gabriella, 15, Milania, 14, and Audriana, 10.

He then filed a petition in late September to go to Italy instead. That request was approved earlier this month.

In documents obtained by PEOPLE, lawyers for Joe said the father of four was hoping to get out so he could work to make money for his family.

They also stated that Joe is still hopeful his appeal will be granted, allowing him to come back to the United States. In the event that he does prevail in his case after he has been sent to Italy, Joe requests that ICE facilitate his return home.

Joe Giudice, Teresa Giudice and their daughters
| Credit: Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images

Joe has been away since he began a 41-month prison sentence for mail, wire and bankruptcy fraud in March 2016.

He was released from prison last March but asked to be held in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement at the Clinton County Correctional Center in Pennsylvania while he awaited a decision on the deportation.

In October last year, an immigration court ruled to deport Joe to Italy after his prison sentence. (Even though he has lived in the United States since he was a child, he never obtained American citizenship, and immigrants can be deported if they are convicted of “a crime of moral turpitude” or an “aggravated felony,” according to U.S. law.)

His requests to appeal the deportation ruling have thus far been denied. A final decision is pending, with a court date scheduled for November.

A source previously told PEOPLE that Joe was losing “hope” that he’ll ever return home to be reunited with his family.

“These past few months in ICE [custody] have been harder for Joe than prison was. The conditions there are terrible,” the insider said. “He’s so close to freedom, yet so far away. Not being able to see his family, and knowing that he won’t be able to be back home with them, has really broken him.”

“He’s fighting, but he’s really resigned to the fact that he’ll be deported,” the source continued. “And losing that hope has left him bitter, angry, and unhappy. He’s a shell of who he used to be.”

Teresa and Joe Giudice
| Credit: Paul Zimmerman/Getty Images for Mount Airy Casino Resort

While Teresa has stood by her husband’s side thus far, she has also been realistic about the fate of their marriage should he be deported, admitting on the RHONJ season 9 reunion that she’s “not doing a long-distance relationship.”

But despite fights the two have had, Teresa is still hoping for the best for Joe.

Teresa and Joe have had their arguments in the past few months, but Teresa doesn’t want Joe to get deported,” the source told PEOPLE. “She wants him to come home for their family. She loves Joe and it hurts her to see how he is being treated.”