Held Americans deny links to Haiti 'adviser'

PORT-AU-PRINCE - A man who provided legal aid to 10 jailed US missionaries and who may be wanted for human trafficking in El Salvador was not known to the Americans' church group before their arrest, a relative said.

PORT-AU-PRINCE - A man who provided legal aid to 10 jailed US missionaries and who may be wanted for human trafficking in El Salvador was not known to the Americans' church group before their arrest, a relative said.

For that reason, and as the adviser could not by law represent them in Haiti, lawyers for the group argued that his legal woes should have no bearing on whether the group are released provisionally, as a judge has recommended.

Sean Lankford said Jorge Puello first contacted relatives of the group by calling their Idaho church after they were arrested on January 29 for trying to take 33 children out of Haiti.

They thought the Jewish Puello, from the Dominican Republic, was a Good Samaritan and had no reason to doubt his intentions, said Lankford, whose wife and daughter are among the detained.

"Puello did not ask for money and "even took a small plane into Haiti and didn't want reimbursement," Lankford said.

The Americans said they were on a humanitarian mission, rescuing victims of Haiti's January 12 earthquake. They were setting up an orphanage in the Dominican resort of Cabarate.

Howard Augusto Cotto of the El Salvador police said on Friday that he was seeking fingerprints for Puello to determine whether he was the Salvadoran named in an Interpol warrant for allegedly running a trafficking ring that lured girls into prostitution with bogus offers of modelling jobs.

A photo of Jorge Torres Orellana bears a strong resemblance to Puello, who last week visited Haitian judge Bernard Saint-Vil, who is hearing the case in Port-au-Prince.

Sant-Vil said last week that he was recommending the Americans be provisionally released. He said he expected to issue a decision next week.

Puello answered calls until the accusation emerged and has since Friday refused to answer calls.

The Times quoted Puello as denying any link to trafficking and saying he had never been to El Salvador.

On Saturday, the Dominican police chief Rafael Guzman said Puello had no criminal record there but was being probed. - Sapa-AP

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