Baptists' legal adviser target of trafficking inquiry
Jorge Puello says it's a case of mistaken identity and he's not the leader of a ring involving Central American and Caribbean women and girls.
BY MARC LACEY AND IAN URBINA - NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - The inquiries by El Salvador police into Jorge Puello are the latest twist in a politically charged case that is unfolding in the middle of an earthquake disaster zone. A lawyer for the Baptist group has already been dismissed after being accused of trying to offer bribes to get the 10 Americans accused of kidnapping out of jail.
When Bernard Saint-Vil, the judge presiding over the Haitian case involving eight Idahoans, learned on Thursday of the investigation in El Salvador he said he would begin his own inquiry into Puello, a Dominican man who was in the judge's chambers days before.
Puello said in a telephone interview Thursday that he had not engaged in any illegal activity in El Salvador and that he had never been in the country. "I don't have anything to do with El Salvador," he said, suggesting that his name was as common in Latin America as John Smith is in the United States.
Puello has been acting as a spokesman and legal adviser for the detainees in the Dominican Republic.
The head of the Salvadoran border police, Commissioner Jorge Callejas, said that he was investigating accusations that a man with a Dominican passport that identified him as Jorge Anibal Torres Puello led a human trafficking ring that recruited Dominican women and under-age Nicaraguan girls by offering them jobs and then putting them to work as prostitutes in El Salvador.
Puello said he did not even have a passport.
When Callejas was shown a photograph taken in Haiti of Puello, Callejas said he thought it showed the man he was seeking.
"It's him, the same beard and face," Callejas said Thursday. "It has to be him."
Saint-Vil said he also thought that the photo of the trafficking suspect in a Salvadoran police file appeared to be the same man he had met in court.
Interpol confirmed details of the Salvadoran investigation, but it had not passed judgment on whether Puello was the suspect in that case.
There were also questions about whether Puello, who said he had been hired by the Central Valley Baptist Church in Meridian as a lawyer to represent the Americans, was licensed to practice law. Records at the College of Lawyers in the Dominican Republic listed no one with his name.
UPDATE: DOMINICAN LAWYER PROBED IN MISSIONARY CASE ADMITS PRIOR CHARGES