Charges have been dropped against nine of the 10 Baptist missionaries who were arrested while trying to bus 33 child earthquake survivors from Haiti to the Dominican Republic on Jan. 29, a spokesman for Idaho Sen. Jim Risch told CNN, although the expedition’s leader, Laura Silsby, is still in Haitian jail.
The Risch spokesman said examining Judge Bernard Saint-Vil has completed his investigation of Silsby and it has been submitted to the prosecutor, who is expected to return his recommendation with regard to Silsby within a week.
In mid-March when bail for Silsby was rejected, Saint-Vil’s investigation turned upon whether there had been a Jan. 26 attempt by Silsby to bus child earthquake survivors out of Haiti. At that time, Saint-Vil brought the additional charge of “organization of irregular trips” against all 10 Americans, The Laredo Sun reported, “who were arrested in January, even though nine of them have been released on bail and have left the country.”
The prosecutor is now expected to return a recommendation within a week. He may recommend additional investigation or a finding of “guilty” or “not guilty,” U.S. State Department officials said.
Paul Thompson, one of those originally charged and pastor of Eastside Baptist Church in Twin Falls, Idaho, told Baptist Press last week that Silsby “has been a consistent minister to the other inmates” during her time in jail, sharing Creole Bibles. He also said, “The church in Haiti continues to visit Laura on a regular basis, bringing her food, water and other necessary items,” Thompson said, adding she has had enough water and food to share with fellow inmates. Haitian law requires that prisoners be fed by outsiders, he explained.
It is a cautionary case. Silsby was warned repeatedly during the days preceding arrest of the 10 that she was headed for legal difficulty. There was not one orphan, the Associated Press determined, among the 33 children the group was attempting to transport to the Dominican Republic.
The children have apparently all been restored to their families. UNICEF and others agree that an approach which keeps families together when that is possible, reduces the likelihood of inadvertent harm and helps make it more difficult for child traffickers to take advantage of a natural catastrophe to prey on children.
The Associated Press reported Wednesday that all but one of the children “were given back to 22 families.” And the remaining child awaits verification of parents’ identities, while Laura Silsby remains in jail.
Laura Silsby is still in jail because Examining Judge Bernard Saint-Vil has concluded there is evidence of another attempt by her to bus child earthquake survivors to the Dominican Republic on Jan. 26.
Saint-Vil brought the additional charge of “organization of irregular trips” against all 10 Americans, The Laredo Sun reports, “who were arrested in January, even though nine of them have been released on bail and have left the country.”
The Haitian law restricts travel out of Haiti that and was signed in 1980 by then-dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier. It carries a penalty of 3-6 years. The other charges the 10 may face, the Sun reported, are criminal association, with a penalty of 3-15 years, and kidnapping of a minor, with a penalty of 3-9 years.
Silsby was warned repeatedly during the days preceding arrest of the 10 that she was headed for legal difficulty. There was not one orphan, the Associated Press determined, among the 33 children the group was attempting to transport to the Dominican Republic.
Saint-Vil also rejected a petition for bail, and if he completes his investigation next week, as expected, will submit his findings to the attorney general for review. The attorney general will have five working days to return an opinion before Saint-Vil can announce whether he will go to trial.
I posted my Special Report on this affair last week, which contained allegations that Silsby’s team was being offered help by certain Dominicans and Haitian helpers to cross the Dominican border with children they planned to pick up, possibly in exchange for money. I have more to share about those allegations, and what I’ve been able to learn.
As Silsby-watchers know, Haitian Judge Bernard Saint-Vil is still detaining Silsby today, but released her best friend Charisa Coulter yesterday. He did that only after holding closed sessions to re-question Silsby and two Dominican real estate agents Jose Hidalgo and his partner Rob Chenvert, and another individual about their knowledge and version of events. When asked why he won’t release Silsby, the judge told a reporter he has discovered ‘discrepancies’ in Silsby’s accounts, and is reviewing certain documents. To even a casual reader, that means something isn’t adding up.
For many reasons. Read the rest here.
Q: What is the likelihood that Laura Silsby will be released?
A: It would be unconstitutional for one to stay behind on the same charges after all the others have been released. There would have to be new charges against her.
Read the rest here.
“There is not one orphan” among the 33 Haitian children a group of U.S. Baptists attempted to take across the border into the Dominican Republic, the Associated Press has determined.
Haitian Judge Bernard Saint-Vil released eight of the 10 U.S. Baptists who were “charged with child kidnapping” after they were stopped while trying to take more than 30 Haitian children across the border into the Dominican Republic in the wake of last month’s earthquake.
The judge ruled eight can be released on bail and will be allowed to leave the country. But the leader of the group, Laura Silsby, and another woman, Charisa Coulter, will not be released on bail and it is reported they will still face charges.
Upon entering court today the judge said, according to Reuters:
I have already prepared the draft to order the release of eight of the Americans today, but as far as Mrs Silsby and Mrs Coulter are concerned, I need to ask some further questions. Actually I am considering hearing them as early as tomorrow.
The US nationals, set free by Judge Bernard Saint-Vil, were placed in a van with diplomatic plates and driven out of the compound where they had been held since their arrest January 29.
The group was whisked into the Port-au-Prince airport, but when asked if they would stay overnight in Haiti, the group’s lawyer Aviol Fleurant said, “I think so.”
The eight left Haiti aboard a U.S. Air Force C-130 cargo plane and deplaned in Miami at about midnight last night. Frank James of National Public Radio reported:
Eight Baptist missionaries spent their first night of freedom in three weeks in a Miami hotel after a Haitian judge released them from jail where they were being held on suspicion of child trafficking for trying to transport Haitian children out of the country without the proper authorization.
A power outage reportedly prevents Haitian Prosecutor Josephe Manes Louis from delivering to the judge his now-completed recommendations regarding whether to release 10 Baptists who were arrested for child trafficking. Sad though their plight is, they were warned, repeatedly:
- The night before the 10 entered Haiti, journalist and social activist Anne-christine d’Adesky told the group’s leader, Laura Silsby, that her plan to collect 100 Haitian children and take them to the Dominican Republic was illegal and would be regarded as child trafficking.
- Dominican consul general Carlos Castillo told CNN:
I warned her, I said as soon as you get there without the proper documents, you are going to get into trouble, because they are going to accuse you, because you have the intent to pass the border without the proper papers and they are going to accuse you with kids trafficking.
- A Haitian police officer told CNN that he stopped the Americans on Jan. 26 as they tried to take a bus of 40 children out of the country.
- Dixie Bickel, director of God’s Littlest Children orphanage in Thomasin, Haiti, told the Miami Herald that Silsby disregarded her warnings about trying to swoop in after the earthquake and haul Haitian children off to the Dominican Republic.
Their arrest was tragic but not, as Southern Baptist Convention Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission chief Richard Land claims, “outrageous.” More recently, he has reportedly become thankful for “whatever the US govt did” to free the 10.” Land, however, dwells in an alternate reality where the U.S. is “winning” a war in Iraq, telling Southern Baptist state newspaper editors, “that’s not something you’re reading about.”
Failures of due diligence can have a very high price indeed.
A man offering legal advice to most of the 10 Baptists, Jorge Puello, “may have a string of legal charges against him in the United States as well as a warrant for his arrest in El Salvador for sex trafficking, records show.” The New York Times reported Saturday:
The man, Jorge Puello, was brought into the case from the Dominican Republic as a lawyer to help the 10 Americans arrested last month for trying to remove 33 children from the country after the earthquake without government permission.
A Web site that was abruptly taken down on Friday described Mr. Puello and his cousin, Alejandro Puello, as law partners.
. . .
Salvadoran police say they want to question Mr. Puello in connection with a sex trafficking ring that was broken up last year in which women and girls from Central America and the Caribbean were lured into prostitution through offers of modeling jobs. The suspect police are seeking is named Jorge Anibal Torres Puello, which Mr. Puello said was not his full name.
. . .
Public records and court documents in the United States also indicate that a person with the same name and birth date is considered a fugitive and is wanted by the Miami police, the United States Customs and the United States Marshals Service. The name and birth date are also the same as the man being pursued by the police in El Salvador and for whom Interpol has transmitted an arrest warrant.
An order is listed in the United States national crime database for a man with that name and birth date to be arrested on sight and reported to United States immigration officials. Those records say he is wanted in connection with crimes including bank fraud in the United States and Canada, and theft of American government property. Police records say he has violated parole.
The Miami Herald reported Saturday:
Salvadoran police say photos that surfaced Friday show the legal advisor to American missionaries jailed in Haiti may be the lead suspect in a human trafficking ring involving child prostitution in El Salvador.
Police say they are waiting for fingerprints to determine if Jorge Anibal Torres Puello is also wanted in El Salvador on charges of promoting prostitution among children in what has been one of the nation’s most vexing social problems
The Idaho Statesman reported:
While investigators in the Dominican Republic, El Salvador and Florida look into Jorge Puello’s past, the families and representatives of several of the 10 jailed Americans he has been working for say they don’t know how he became their advocate in the ordeal.
Puello, is suspected of leading a trafficking ring involving Central American and Caribbean women and girls, and says it is a case of mistaken identity. The New York Times reported Friday:
When the judge presiding over the Haitian case learned on Thursday of the investigation in El Salvador, he said he would begin his own inquiry of the adviser, a Dominican man who was in the judge’s chambers days before.
The judge’s opinion still will be reviewed by prosecutors in the case. The prosecutors’ decision could take up to five days to be issued, Haitian judicial officials said.
Reg Brown, a Washington,D.C., attorney for detainee Jim Allen of Texas, said Allen’s team of lawyers is “cautiously optimistic” that their client would soon be released. “We believe the secretary of state has played a constructive role in that Secretary (Hillary) Clinton wants to bring the Americans home,” said Brown, who this week wrote to Clinton asking for her assistance.
Self-protective outcry from Southern Baptist Convention bigwigs, despite their role in causing the problem, may have been irrelevant to the proceedings themselves and, given the SBC’s longtime role as a Republican Party auxiliary, off the Obama administration’s radar.