UPDATE: Haiti judge frees 8 U.S. detainees
    February 17 2010 by Baptist Press

    Eight of the 10 American detainees in Haiti arrived in Miami, Fla., early today.

    They arrived at Miami International Airport shortly after midnight on a U.S. Air Force cargo plane. None of them spoke to reporters about their ordeal.

    “Faith means everything to me and I knew this moment would come when the truth would set me free,” said Jim Allen, a welder from Amarillo, Texas, in a statement.

    A judge in Haiti released the eight on bail Wednesday. They did not have to post bond to leave but had to promise to return if needed during the investigation.

    Bernard Saint-Vil said two volunteers will not be freed, the Reuters News Service reported. Laura Silsby, the group’s leader, and Charisa Coulter are being kept for further investigation.

    CNN reported that Coulter, who is diabetic, was taken to a field hospital “in a lot of pain.” Friends and family members of the detainees had expressed concern during the three-week detention about the volunteers’ access to health care.

    Jorge Puello, who had stepped forward as a presumed legal adviser in the Dominican Republic on behalf of some of the Americans, reportedly now is being pursued by U.S. Marshals as well as authorities in El Salvador.

    Puello called the Associated Press Feb. 16 and said he was in Panama preparing to return to El Salvador to face charges for leading a ring that lured young girls and women into prostitution. He also acknowledged he is named in a 2003 federal indictment in Vermont that accuses him of smuggling illegal immigrants from Canada into the United States, AP said.

    Saint-Vil, however, had stated that Puello’s legal problems are separate from the child kidnapping charges that were leveled against the 10 Americans. One of the Americans on Tuesday denied any connection to Puello.

    AP said Puello, 32, is identified as Jorge Torres in the Vermont indictment and managed to avoid arrest because he was living in Canada at the time. The United States requested extradition, and Puello fled.

    The AP report also noted that Puello was convicted of theft of U.S. government property in 1999 in Pennsylvania and sentenced to six months in prison and five years probation, and in 2001 a court found he violated the terms of his probation and issued a warrant for his arrest. After the Americans were detained Jan. 29, Puello contacted their relatives by calling their church, Central Valley Baptist Church in Meridian, Idaho, AP said.

    Before he initiated the call, he had never met any of them. In subsequent days, Puello reportedly delivered food and medicine to the prisoners and helped them find a Haitian lawyer, whom he later fired. Puello was born in the United States but has strong ties to the Dominican Republic, AP said, and authorities in El Salvador noted his resemblance to the suspect in a sex trafficking case in their country after seeing him portrayed as representing the Americans.

    Allen confirmed during an eight-minute phone call with his wife Feb. 16 that he had no contact with Puello.

    “I have never heard from that guy, never seen him, never spoke to him, never met him,” Allen said. “I don’t even know who he is.”

    Louis Gary Lissade, a former Haitian minister of justice, is representing Allen with help from a team of attorneys in the United States including Liberty Legal Institute, which conveyed information from the phone call in a news release the same day.

    Allen’s wife Lisa said that during the call he was in good spirits, joked about having lost a few pounds and expressed confidence in Haitian officials to set him free, the news release said.

    Liberty Legal Institute, based in Plano, Texas, filed a motion Feb. 10 seeking the release of Allen, a small business owner and construction worker who is a member of Paramount Baptist Church in Amarillo.

    Kelly Shackelford, Liberty’s chief counsel, said Allen “is an upstanding American with a good heart trying to rebuild a country. We believe that when the facts of this case are revealed, our client will be released. We’re working hard to make that happen.”

    Allen reportedly had been invited by a cousin to join the volunteer team and had “joined the team 48 hours before the group’s departure.”

    His wife has expressed concern about his well-being in prison since he suffers from a medical condition for which he takes medication, Liberty said.

    (EDITOR’S NOTE — Compiled by Baptist Press assistant editor Mark Kelly and staff writer Erin Roach.)    
    2/17/2010 10:45:00 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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