A fugitive who once acted as the lawyer for a group of U.S. Baptist missionaries accused of kidnapping 33 Haitian children was arrested on human-trafficking charges, authorities said Friday.
Jorge Puello, 32, was detained at the United States' request as he left a McDonald's restaurant late Thursday in the Dominican capital, Santo Domingo, said National Drug Control Agency spokesman Roberto Lebron.
A judge has 30 days to meet with Puello, Dominican authorities, and an attorney representing the U.S. government before deciding whether to honor the government's extradition request, he said.
Puello is wanted in the U.S. state of Vermont and in Canada for smuggling illegal immigrants, and in the U.S. city of Philadelphia for probation violations related to fraud charges, said a statement from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
He is wanted in El Salvador for crimes against children; sexual exploitation of minors for pornography and prostitution; organized crime; and human trafficking, ICE said. Interpol issued an arrest warrant for Puello at El Salvador's request.
Puello has denied all of the allegations. His mother, Soledad Puello, secretary of internal affairs for the National Party of Veterans and Civilians, told The Associated Press on Friday that she will represent him in court.
"In the Dominican Republic ... the entire community will come out to defend him," she said. Soledad Puello had told the AP on Thursday that she and others were negotiating with Salvadoran prosecutors for her son to turn himself in.
Puello initially served as legal adviser and spokesman for the 10 U.S. Baptists who were detained in Haiti on child-kidnapping charges in February, but authorities later identified him as the man wanted in El Salvador.
Puello attracted international attention when he provided the missionaries with food, medicine and legal assistance. One of the Baptists' Haitian lawyers, Aviol Fleurant, told the AP that Puello absconded with $30,000 in legal fees the Americans had raised for Fleurant.
Puello, who was born in New York but holds both U.S. and Dominican citizenship, told the AP last month that he was innocent of all accusations.
Nine of the missionaries, most of whom are from Idaho, have been released from jail and returned to the United States. Group leader Laura Silsby remains in custody at the police station that is being used as Haiti's temporary government headquarters.
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