Release of Baptist Missionaries May Be Delayed as Legal Advisor is Investigated


The New York Times reports today that the release of 10 Baptist missionaries from the United States accused of taking Haitian
children out of the country without government approval may be delayed
because of legal problems surrounding an adviser to the group, the judge in the case said Friday. 

The legal advisor is being investigated for his possible involvement in trafficking in children and women, and for warrants in the United States.

On Thursday, the Haitian Judge in charge of investigating the case of the missionaries sent a letter to the prosecutor’s office recommending that all of the Americans be released, indicating
they could leave the country as long as a representative remained here
to answer any additional questions. According to the Haitian legal system, the prosecutor would make a final determination on whether to pursue the case, and had originally been expected to issue his decision on Monday, February 15th..

Now, however, Judge
Bernard Saint-Vil told the Times that before he released the
Americans, he would first have to determine whether the adviser, Jorge
Puello, a Dominican who claimed to be a lawyer for most of the group’s
members, is the same man the Salvadoran police have been pursuing on
sex trafficking charges.

According to the Times, Eric Álvarez, a spokesman for the Salvadoran chief
prosecutor’s office, said Friday that judicial officials had determined
that photographs of Mr. Puello in Haiti matched those of the suspect wanted in El Salvador. Meanwhile, police
officials in El Salvador said Thursday that they had begun an
investigation into whether Mr. Puello was the man they were pursuing, a
suspect who the police said had been running an international sex
trafficking ring that lured women and girls from Central America and
the Caribbean into prostitution with offers of modeling jobs.

There
were also questions about whether Mr. Puello, who said he had been
hired as a lawyer by the Central Valley Baptist Church in Idaho to
represent the Americans, was licensed to practice law. He was not
listed in records at the College of Lawyers in the Dominican Republic.

Mr.
Puello has denied any connection to the Salvadoran case, said the Times, and called it
an instance of mistaken identity. He said in an interview on Thursday
that he had never been in El Salvador.

Another story in the Times today indicates that Puello also matches the description of a man with outstanding warrants for his arrest in the United States.

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.

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