Preparations for the provisional release of 10 Americans detained in Haiti on child kidnapping charges may be on hold after questions arose about a Dominican man who served as their legal adviser.
Officials in the Dominican Republic said Jorge Puello did not have a license to practice law in his native country, and The New York Times reported the Haitian judge might delay the group's release because of questions about the adviser's possible links to a human-trafficking case.
The New York Times first reported that authorities in El Salvador are investigating whether Puello is a man suspected of leading a trafficking ring in that country involving Central American and Caribbean women and girls.
Puello has been a high-profile advocate for the jailed Baptists as they navigate the Haitian justice system. He also now is in apparent violation of Dominican law for failing to register with the local bar association or obtain a license, said Jose Parra, vice president of the Dominican Lawyers Association.
Parra said his organization was investigating the situation and might file a complaint with the Justice Department, which could pursue criminal charges.
Dominican Police Chief Rafael Guzman Fermin issued a statement on Saturday that Puello has no criminal record in the Dominican Republic, but is under investigation.
The Web site for Puello Consulting says it has offered "full legal services" for businesses in the Dominican Republic and elsewhere since 2005. The site was taken down Friday "for unknown reasons."
Meanwhile, leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, have asked President Obama to “do everything within the authority of your office” to free the American missionary team charged with abduction in Haiti.
In a letter dated Feb. 5, the leaders said it is “the consuming passion” of Southern Baptists to share the good news with the world and to “love every person He has created.” This characteristic is especially apparent during times of disaster when Southern Baptists work alongside other humanitarian groups to meet the physical and spiritual needs of people.
GetRleigion.org is dedicated to helping the press get their details right. Comments to the post entitled: Yo, Washington Post copy desk! reveal that the pastor of their church, Central Valley Church has said, that despite how they are identified in the media, they are not missionaries:
“One thing I would like to correct, as reported in some media coverage, is that the 10 Americans are not full-time missionaries. They are members of local churches from 3 different states who joined together to participate in this trip. They are friends and neighbors who have big hearts and lots of love to share. They come from churches much like ours here at Central Valley Baptist Church. Churches that take short term volunteer trips both here and abroad to carry out the work our Lord Jesus Christ has commanded.”
Others point out that baptists use the term loosely for those doing short-term missionary work.
The President of the Board of International Ministries also wanted to clarify (distance themselves?) this aspect: "While the people involved are Baptists from the United States, they are not American Baptists, a title belonging to the churches who are part of the American Baptist Churches/USA based in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania."