Church Adviser May Face Warrant
By MARC LACEY and IAN URBINA • New York Times
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Two days after a group of Americans were taken into custody in Haiti last month, a man who has emerged as a suspect in sex trafficking called up the Idaho church where 5 of the 10 of them attend, portraying himself as an attorney who could help free the group without charging, according to representatives of Central Valley Baptist Church.
After failing to contact any of the approved lawyers provided by the United States Embassy in Port-au-Prince, two relatives of the detained Americans returned the call from the man, Jorge Puello, which came in during Sunday services on Jan. 31, and agreed for him to help on a pro-bono basis, said Terry Michaelson, a church attorney.
It was only later that relatives learned that Mr. Puello — who spoke to the media on behalf of the jailed Americans, fired a Haitian attorney who was representing them and visited the Haitian judge handling the case — lacked a law license and is being sought by law enforcement agencies in El Salvador and the United States, Mr. Michaelson said.
Mr. Puello has dropped out of sight since questions were raised about his background. His cousin, Alejandro Puello, said Saturday he was missing, and calls to Mr. Puello’s cellphone were not answered. A Web site that described Mr. Puello and his cousin as law partners, which Alejandro Puello said was false, was taken down on Friday.
The Salvadoran police say they want to question Mr. Puello in connection with a sex trafficking ring 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 is named Jorge Anibal Torres Puello.
But Mr. Puello, who has denied he is that man, said Thursday that he was the president the Sephardic Jewish Community in the Dominican Republic. Public records indicate that in 2007 that organization was registered to Jorge Anibal Torres Puello.
Public records and court documents in the United States also say that a person with the same name and birth date is considered a fugitive and is wanted by the Miami police, United States Customs and the United States Marshals Service. The name and birth date are also the same as the man being pursued 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.
When asked Thursday to explain whether he was tied to the sex trafficking ring, Mr. Puello said, “I don’t have to answer any questions from you people.”
Here is the Miami Herald's report:
Advisor to 10 investigated
A man offering legal counsel to missionaries charged with child kidnapping in Haiti is being looked at as a potential participant in a Salvadoran child prostitution ring.
BY GERARDO REYES AND PATRICIA MAZZEI • Miami Herald
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.
``There are similarities -- the date of birth, and also similarities in the physical appearance,'' said Howard Cotto, deputy director of investigations for Salvadoran police, during a press conference in San Salvador.
The controversy surrounding the 33-year-old legal advisor -- a key figure in the drama surrounding 10 Americans accused of trying to take 33 children out of Haiti -- exploded yesterday when Salvadoran police announced they were trying to determine if the legal advisor was the notorious child trafficker.
Police said the probe began when they were asked by Dominican officials to search for connections, but did not elaborate.
During a press conference, Cotto said that mug shots of Jorge Torres Orellana -- wanted for promoting prostitution and posting explicit photos of children on the Internet -- shared a remarkable likeness to a photo of Torres Puello.
In an interview with The New York Times, Torres Puello denied any connection to the Salvadoran fugitive, saying ``I don't have anything to do with El Salvador.''
For the past two weeks, the U.S. church group has come under scrutiny for skirting the laws of Haiti to remove the children in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake that tore through the capital on Jan. 12.
In the wake of their arrest, members of the Central Valley Baptist Church have said their leader, Laura Silsby, mislead them about the legitimacy of their mission in Haiti.
But with the recent announcement by Salvadoran police, attention has turned to Torres Puello, who has been representing himself as a legal counsel to the group.
Though he claims to have a law license, the Santo Domingo address listed on Puello Consulting's website turned out to be the office of Alejandro Puello, Torres Puello's cousin.
Alejandro Puello showed a Miami Herald reporter on Friday around the bare, one-room office in a working-class neighborhood and said Torres Puello has never worked with him, and that his cousin is not a lawyer.
``Jorge Puello has nothing to do with this office,'' he said.
Alejandro Puello, 27, said he was unaware of any ties that his cousin may have with human trafficking in El Salvador.
He said he thought his cousin was born in New York and lived in Canada until recently.
Alejandro Puello -- who said he is licensed to practice law in the Dominican Republic -- said he challenged his cousin when he learned Torres Puello was lending legal advice to the American church group.
``I said, `Jorge, how, if you're not a lawyer?' '' he said. ``He told me, `I hired a lawyer for them in Haiti.' ''
During the press conference Friday in El Salvador, police said they will seek Torres Puello's extradition if evidence shows he is indeed the fugitive and accused child trafficker Torres Orellana.
Charges were filed last year against Torres Orellana after three young girls escaped captivity and led police to the house where they had previously been held.
Also charged was Ana Josefa Galvarina Ramirez Orellana. Though it is not clear how Torres Orellana escaped, Ramirez was convicted of trafficking humans between El Salvador, the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua.