BOISE, Idaho (AP) — An Idaho businesswoman accused of trying to take 33 children out of Haiti after the deadly January earthquake has been returned to her family after three months in a foreign jail.
But as Laura Silsby closes one troubled chapter, another set of legal woes awaits her at home.
The crowd that greeted the 40-year-old at the Boise airport on Tuesday, May 18 included a disgruntled former employee of Silsby’s now-defunct Internet business, Personal Shopper Inc., which closed in March.
Personal Shopper is the subject of a host of lawsuits and unpaid wage claims.
Bryan Jack told The Associated Press that he was hired by the business in 2007, starting as an analyst and then taking over its customer care department. Court records show Jack sued Silsby in February and a judge ruled in favor of him on April 29, awarding him a civil judgment of $5,041 in back pay from Personal Shopper.
Jack, a 32-year-old who lives in Boise, held a large sign that read “Laura, Where’s My Paycheck?” above the crowd of church and family members who huddled around Silsby in the airport terminal.
“I think it’s important the public knows she owes people money and she’s been dishonest with folks,” Jack said.
As Silsby sat in a Haitian jail, her husband sought sole custody of their 5-year-old daughter and 15-year-old son.
In a motion filed on March 5, Terry Silsby also asked the courts to demand immediate return of his children’s
passports and require that Silsby obtain “medical clearance” before having contact with them, according to an affidavit.
A custody hearing later that month in Ada County Magistrate Court was canceled because an out-of-court agreement was reached, the details of which were not disclosed by either side.
A trial has been set for Aug. 20 to sort out remaining custody issues.
The couple’s divorce was made final in January 2007, but proceedings in the case have dragged on, with the two still fighting in court and Terry Silsby contending that his ex-wife took the children to a wedding in the Dominican Republic without his permission during his custodial time.
Silsby’s children were clearly on her mind as she returned to Idaho and commented briefly on her plans.
“Spending time with my children,” she said. “I have missed them so incredibly much.”
Silsby was freed Monday, May 17 when a judge convicted her of arranging illegal travel, but sentenced her to time already served in jail. She was welcomed at the Boise airport by her sister, mother and members of her Idaho church.
Silsby was convicted for arranging illegal travel under a 1980 statute restricting movement out of Haiti signed by
then-dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier.
The 40-year-old organized the ill-fated effort to take the children to an orphanage being set up in the neighboring Dominican Republic. She cried while hugging family members and sang a hymn with members of her church congregation.
Silsby declined to answer questions from reporters before leaving the airport with her sister and friend Charisa Coulter, who was among the Idaho missionaries jailed in Haiti. Coulter was released in March.
“Our first concern is for her welfare and the welfare of her family,” said Clint Henry, who is Silsby’s pastor at Central Valley Baptist Church in Meridian. “We continue to keep the suffering people of Haiti in our prayers … they still need our help and our prayers.”
At least one of the members of the group that had been detained in Haiti indicated they hope to continue volunteer work and would like to return to the country.
“I hope God will let me go back to Haiti,” said Paul Thompson, a Twin Falls pastor who was jailed along with his son.
Thompson was among several of the group members who greeted Silsby at the Boise airport. Coulter and her father, along with Silsby’s father John Sander, traveled to Haiti on May 2 to give Silsby moral support.
Silsby had been in custody since Jan. 29. She was originally charged with kidnapping and criminal association, but those charges were dropped for her and the nine other Americans who were previously released.
After missionaries were arrested, Silsby told the court she thought the children were orphans whose homes were
destroyed in the earthquake. But she lacked the proper papers to remove them from the country at a time when the
government was restricting adoptions to prevent child trafficking.
An AP investigation later revealed all the children had at least one living parent who had turned their children over to the group in hopes of securing better lives for them. Silsby and other members of the church group, who were mostly from the same Baptist church in Idaho, insisted they had only come to Haiti to help.
“God has been there with me every single day,” Silsby said. “He has given me strength and peace through every moment of this trial.”
AP Photo/Esteban Felix. U.S. missionary Laura Silsby, center, leaves a courthouse in Port-au-Prince, Monday, May 17, 2010.