NEWS: New Development in Case of American Baptists Held in Haiti, Part Two

On Thursday, March 18, Dominican authorities arrested Jorge Torres Puello, adviser to the detained Americans in Haiti who had been charged with kidnapping. Ten Americans, most of them Baptists from Idaho, came to Haiti soon after the January 12 earthquake and maintained they were on a charity mission. However, police arrested them as they attempted to take 33 children out of the country without permission. The Americans claimed the children in question were orphans, but many of the children later said they had parents. (For the original Feb. 12 post, see below.) Officials have since released nine of the detainees while the tenth, Laura Silsby, is still in custody.

According to the New York Times, Idaho’s Central Valley Baptist Church initially hired Puello to provide legal counsel and act as spokesperson. Puello himself had said he accepted the job pro bono because of his own religious beliefs. (There is debate over Puello’s ties to the Sephardic Jewish community.) However, Haitian officials soon learned Puello was suspected of smuggling, violating probation for fraud, exploiting minors for prostitution and pornography, and trafficking Caribbean and Central American girls in El Salvador, the United States, and Canada. In February Puello went on the lam during which, according to the NY Times, “he sent emails to reporters, set up a Web site declaring his innocence and contributed to many blogs.” Dominican authorities, with the assistance of the United States Marshals Service and other enforcement agencies, initiated an international hunt that ended with Puello’s arrest in a McDonald’s restaurant parking lot in Santo Domingo. To read more, click here.

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