Jason Puracal is out of Nicaragua but his family will not for the time being release any information about how he left or where he is, said Brad Chase, a spokesman for the David House Agency, a crisis-management firm that has been helping Puracal's family.
Puracal left the prison Thursday afternoon hunched down in the back seat of a car being driven by his lawyer without talking to reporters waiting outside.
Fabbrith Gomez, Puracal's attorney, briefly stopped the car and said that Puracal needed a shower and some rest, and wouldn't be speaking to the news media.
Puracal's team then said officials weren't letting him leave the country, although Nicaragua's immigration chief, Maria Antonieta Novoa, said she was unaware of any government actions to keep the U.S. man there.
Janis Puracal, the American's sister, said the family was anxiously waiting for him to be released so he could fly back to the United States.
"The fight is not over until Jason actually is walking out of the prison and comes to the United States," his sister said by telephone before his release.
A three-judge appeals panel vacated three charges against Jason Puracal in a decision announced Wednesday. He had been convicted in August 2011 and sentenced to 22 years in prison in September.
Nicaragua's chief of organized crime prosecutors, Javier Morazan, said he was studying the ruling of the appeals court to decide which steps to take.
The appeals panel ruled that the sentencing judge failed to carefully examine the evidence and explain the reasons for convicting Puracal and 10 others. Also, the court agreed the judge had violated the defendants' rights by not allowing the defense to introduce evidence.
The case has drawn the scrutiny of lawmakers and rights advocates who considered the judicial process marred with inconsistencies.