Monday, February 15, 2010

Trafficking Charges for Adviser to Jailed Americans in Haiti

February 16, 2010

Trafficking Charges for Adviser to Jailed Americans in Haiti

New York Times

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — As the 10 Americans imprisoned in Haiti for trying to remove children from the country awaited a decision on their fate Monday, the legal woes of the man who falsely portrayed himself as the group’s lawyer mounted.

The one-time legal adviser, who calls himself Jorge Puello, now acknowledges that he faces sex trafficking charges in El Salvador under the name Jorge Anibal Torres Puello. He remained at large on Monday, as Dominican, Salvadoran and American law enforcement officials worked with Interpol to interview his relatives and search border and immigration records to find him.

Mr. Puello is wanted by the police in at least four countries in connection with charges including sex trafficking of girls and women, and making counterfeit documents and violating parole.

The Salvadoran police unveiled a sex trafficking ring last May in which they said Mr. Puello was helping to bring women and girls from Central America and the Caribbean into El Salvador and luring them into prostitution through offers of modeling and office jobs. Nude and semi-nude photographs were taken of women and girls and put on Internet sites, the police said.

The case against Mr. Puello broke open when three under-age Nicaraguan girls escaped from a house where they said they had been held captive for up to ten days by Mr. Puello’s wife, Ana Josefa Galvarina Ramirez Orellana, and another man, according to Jorge Callejas, head of the Salvadoran border police.

The girls had been recruited in Nicaragua by a Nicaraguan man who offered them jobs. Upon arriving in El Salvador, they complained that they were photographed and not allowed to leave the house.

When the police raided the house, they found two other girls from the Dominican Republic. The police arrested the Nicarguan man and Mr. Puello’s wife, who is believed to have managed logistics and fed the girls. Mr. Puello, who was tied to the scene by documents at the house, got away, the police said.

There were suggestions that the ring may have had the protection of government officials. A car parked out front at the time of the raid was registered to Pablo Nasser, who was deputy director of immigration at the time, Mr. Callejas said.

The police also found a letter sent by Mr. Nasser to Dominican immigration authorities requesting approval for two Dominican women to travel to El Salvador for company training. Those two women are believed to be victims in the sex ring, Mr. Callejas said.

Mr. Nasser, who has denied involvement in the ring, told local press that he had sold the car to Ms. Galvarina months before the raid. No charges have been filed against him.

Carlos Velasquez, who was the head of the prosecutor’s office on human trafficking at the time of the raid, told local press that he suspected the letter signed by Mr. Nasser was falsified and closed the case on Mr. Nasser. Mr. Velasquez has since been removed from his post, said Luis Ever, a spokesman for the prosecutor’s office.

Mr. Puello, whom Salvadoran police believe fled the country, was a fugitive when he enmeshed himself late last month in the case of the 10 church members from the United States.

Two days after they were arrested on Jan. 29 while attempting to take 33 children across the border from Haiti into the Dominican Republic, Mr. Puello called up an Idaho church where five of the 10 Americans attend, offering pro bono legal services. Two relatives called him back and accepted, and Mr. Puello then began acting as the group’s lawyer, even though he lacked a law degree. Since his background has emerged, some of the detainees have sought to distance themselves from the man.

“My clients have never met Mr. Puello and know nothing about him,” said Caleb Stegall, the district attorney of Jefferson County, Kansas, who is representing Drew Culberth, Paul Thompson, Silas Thompson and Steve McMullin. “As far as my clients are concerned, Mr. Puello never spoke on their behalf and as far as I am concerned, Mr. Puello has no involvement in this case now on behalf of my clients.”

Hiram Sasser, who is representing Jim Allen, said his client never authorized Mr. Puello to represent him, either.

When first confronted by The Times about the sex trafficking charge on Thursday, Mr. Puello said he had never stepped foot in El Salvador, portraying the issue as a case of mistaken identity.

Later, his version changed and he acknowledged in a telephone interview with CNN that he was the man charged in El Salvador, but said he was innocent.

He said he spent 18 months in a Canadian jail pending an unsuccessful extradition request by United States authorities. He also said he had served jail time in the United States for handling money related to a drug-trafficking operation, and he was jailed again briefly for violating parole. He denied the drug charge.

Dave Oney, spokesman United States Marshal Service said Monday that several marshals visited Mr. Puello’s parents’ house in Santo Domingo on Monday to question them about his whereabouts. Mr. Oney said that there were multiple warrants for Mr. Puello’s arrest.

On Monday, Bernard Saint-Vil, the Haitian judge who is handling the case of the detained Americans, said he intended to further question Laura Silsby, the group’s leader, about any connection she might have with Mr. Puello.

A decision on release appeared days away. The judge on Monday afternoon was awaiting a written response from the prosecutor, Jean Serge Joseph, who said that because of a power outage at his office he was unable to print the full decision for the judge. Mr. Saint-Vil said he will not be working on Tuesday because of Mardi Gras, making Wednesday the earliest day for a ruling on the Americans’ release.

“The final decision is mine and when I get all the documents I’ll decide,” he said in a telephone interview. “The judge has the last word.”

Marc Lacey reported from Port-au-Prince, and Ian Urbina from Washington. Kitty Bennett contributed reporting in Washington, and Blake Schmidt in Managua, Nicaragua.


Jorge Torres Puello said...

all of this lies and what the news don't report is that I was extradited to the United States on September 13, 2010 and was released on December 7. Furthermore my wife case is being reviewed as it was discovered that the alledged victims lied. If you have any question contact me at 914-299-2246

Jorge Torres Puello said...

If they had so many arrest warrants why am I free?