Thanks to everyone commenting and sending tips. They are tremendously helpful. Tomorrow I plan to sit down and go through them carefully. “Plan” being the operative word. The way the story is moving it won’t surprise me if Jorge Puello is picked up in Andorra by then. In the meantime, it’s impossible to keep up and comment cogently on breaking Puello events. The best way is to break the story into chunks, although with so much new news, old news gets tossed aside, at least for now.
Today I’m writing about Jorge Puello. Next, unless something big breaks, I’ll give an update on the New Lifers.
On February 11, 2010 ((New York Times) we first learned that New Life Children’s Refuge “legal adviser” Jorge Puello, may not be who he claimed to be. As I determined earlier, and the New York Times verified, Puello is not a licensed lawyer in the Dominican Republic. In fact, he’s not a lawyer anywhere. How Puello became the group’s “legal adviser” is still unknown. Updates on that situation will appear in another entry.
The article said Jorge Callegas, head of the Salvadoran Border Police, told the Times that he was investigating accusations that a man with a Dominican passport under the name Jorge Anibal Torres Puello, worked a human trafficking ring that recruited women and underage girls to El Salvador with the promise of legitimate work. They were then sold into prostitution there and in Nicaragua, and DR. The sex ring was broken up when three prisoners, 14, 15, and 16 escaped from the house and went to police to report they had been forced to pose naked to promote the sex business. Multiple passports were found in the house, including one in the name of Jorge Torres Orellana.
Callegas, after seeing pictures of “legal adviser” Jorge Puello on television in Haiti, believed that “Jorge Puello” and “Jorge Anibal Torres Puello” and “Jorge Torres Orellana” were the same man. A February 12, article in The New York Times gave a few more details about the case, saying that suspect Puello had worked the ring with Ana Josefa Galbarina Ramierz Orellana, identified elsewhere as suspect Puello’s Salvadoran common-law wife. Ramierz Orellana (currently in jail) and Pablo Nasser, (right) former deputy director of the Salvadoran Immigration Service. Last April, just before his arrest, Nasser attended a course on fraudulent document detection sponsored by the Inter-American Committee Against Terrorism (CICTE) in collaboration with the Forensic Document Laboratory of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE/Homeland Security) and the Salvadoran government. This opens a new set of questions and issues, which need to be discussed, but not in this entry.
In response to the first Times article, “legal adviser” Puello claimed to know nothing about “Jorge Anibal Torres Puello” saying his full name is “Jorge Puello” (no middle name) and he’d been born in Yonkers (Westchester County), New York to a Dominican mother. Incredibly he claimed to have no passport. “In a subsequent interview he told the Times that his full name is “Jorge Aaron Bentath Puello” and he is president of the Sephardic Jewish Community in DR. Documents connected to that Sephardic community were found in the house where traffickers held the young women. The February 13 Times reported that Dominican records filed on November 1, 2007 indicate that the Sephardic Jewish Community is registered to Jorge Anibal Torres Puello. I have not been able to confirm that.
The Miami Herald (February 14–registratation may be required), scored an exclusive interview with Torre Puello’s mother Ana Puello and stepfather Franko Ceminara who live on the outskirts of Santo Domingo. They confimed that Jorge Puello is the Salvadoran trafficking suspect, though deny he would ever hurt a child. Cerminara says he accompanied his stepson to the jail where the New Lifers were held to bring them food and medication Neither know how Torres Puello became involved with Laura Silsby and her crew.
Ana Puello told the Herald that her son was born in Yonkers, but was reared, mostly by his grandmother, in Santo Domingo. He moved to Miami as a teenager. In 1998, under the name Jorge Torres alias George Boyd, Jr, he was indicted for bank fraud in Philadelphia. He was sentenced to 12 months in prison, 6 months in a halfway house, 5 years probation and a $5000 fine after pleading guilty to attempting to negotiate a stolen $66,0000 US Treasury check. He appealed his sentence unsuccessfully. Like the current trafficking case, he was ID’d through video surveillance, fingerprint analysis, and positive witness identification. He was released on January 10, 2002 after Franko Cerminara went to the US to testify on his behalf. It is unclear why, but the US Marshal’s Service issued a warrant for his arrest 10 months after his release, and he is currently on their fugitive list according to the Herald.
Torres Puello, has been married twice his mother says. He and his first wife Valerie lived in Plantation, Florida. In 2005, he married Ana Rameriz, who already had several children. He lived with her in Puerto Rico, possibly Canada, and then back to Santo Domingo where he bought a house with a pool. He reportedly attended law classes in 2000 and 2007, but dropped out.
Thanks to some super sleuthing by one of my “anon” commenters we can trace some of Torres Puello’s activities in Santo Domingo. Go to Who is Jorge Puello? comment # 11 on my Daily Bastardette site. Through some whois research we find that the Puello Consulting phone number is linked to Puello Real Estate with Jorge listed as a real estate agent and his cousin (earlier identified as brother) Alejandro, as an attorney. As “anon” points out, Jorge sells cheap phone cards, too
Today when I typed in Puello Consulting’s land line I got an ad for a 2000 Toyota Raum Jorge is selling for RD205,000, about $5700. The ad was placed on January 21, 2010, the day before Silsby & Co left for Haiti.
Having recently read a book about Crypto-Jews, I was curious about Puello Torre’s claim to be a Sephardic Jew. Puello is not a Crypto-Jewish name, though Torres is. The problem is that the name Torres only came up a couple days ago when the scandal hit.
The Jewish population of DR is about 400 according to wiki, though there may be thousands of Crypto-Jews some of whom know their origins and follow at least some Jewish traditions and others who do not. There are three synagogues in DR, two in Santo Domingo: Centro Israelita de Republica Dominicana and a Chabad outreach center. The third is the Sousua Community (below right) located in Puerta Plata, which includes a Sephardic Beit Midrash dedicated to instruction of classical Hebrew, the Spanish-Portuguese rite, and teaching of Jewish Law. Sousua is, depending on which side of town you’re on, between 4.5 and 9 miles miles (about a 10 minute drive) from Cabarete, the location of the to-be-built New Life Children’s Refuge.
When the Miami Herald asked Dominican Jewish leaders about Torres Puello they claimed ignorance:
While Torres Puello has been telling reporters during recent interviews that he is convert to Judaism and is president of the Sephardic Jewish Community in the Dominican Republic, several Jewish leaders say they have never heard of him.
“I don’t know any Jews by that name,” said Rabbi Shimon Pelman, head of the Chabad Lubavitch of the Dominican Republic.
“The only Jewish community in the Dominican Republic is the chabad community or the Centro Israelita community. I know everybody, and he doesn’t exist.”
In Fall 2007, The Society for Crypto Judiac Studies published an article on DR Crypto-Jews Visiting Anusim in the Dominican Republic. Anuism refers to Jews who were forcibly converted to Christianity, but secretly kept their traditions. The article was written by Harry A. Ezratty, a Baltimore attorney and prominent scholar and historian of Jews in the US, Central America and the Caribbean. Ezratty lived in Puerto Rico for 25 years and is fluent in Spanish. A man using the name Jorge Yoram Torres–clearly our Jorge Torres Puello– is central to the article, and many of the things we now know about Torres Puello are included in the article. (My emphasis):
When Jorge Yoram Torres moved to the city of Santo Domingo, in the Dominican Republic, he never dreamed he would become the founder of the largest congregation on that island. Born in Westchester County , New York , he has lived in Puerto Rico and Canada. A young Orthodox Jew, Torres sports a beard, a kippah, and the fringes of his dangle outside his shirt. His Spanish is perfect. In 2005, Torres opened an internet café in Santo Domingo, offering credit card and long distance calls, fax facilities and a sales office for cell phones.
Obviously Jewish, it was inevitable that someone would approach him. It wasn’t one of the members of the island’s two tiny Jewish communities, but a Dominican who claimed a crypto-Judaic heritage. What Torres discovered amazed him. A large group of Dominicans had been meeting for over 25 years, studying Torah weekly. Many claimed Jewish roots.
For over two and a half decades, they had no serious contact with Jews until they met Jorge Torres. Their leaders had made overtures to Santo Domingo ‘s Jewish community for assistance but were rebuffed. Now they were asking Torres for help. He went to Kulanu, an organization that assists “out of the way” Jewish communities. Jack Zeller, Kulanu’s coordinator, called me and asked me to visit with the group and report on what I found.
I arrived at Las Americas airport in October, 2006, and was greeted by Torres and several enthusiastic members of the community. My trip involved a mitzvah , as it coincided with the Brit Millah of Jorge’s son, which I attended. Torres contacted a mohel from Brooklyn , New York. who would also be arriving that day to perform the service. It was an auspicious event for the members of this community who had never seen or attended a circumcision. What I discovered was that this group was made up of about 3,000 dedicated members, some of whom alleged a crypto-Judaic background. Because of time restraints, I was only able to interview a dozen or so persons. Those I did speak with claimed that one quarter to a third of them are descendants of early colonial Jews. I heard the classical stories of grandparents and parents telling them that they were Jews or that there were odd rituals of candle lighting Friday nights or refraining from eating on certain days. I was not there to determine the veracity of their claims but to make recommendations on how they might be helped. I alerted Stanley Hordes and Seth Kunin, who are studying crypto Jews in the Caribbean islands once belonging to the Spanish Empire. They are now weeding out the claims and performing the necessary detective work to discover the true backgrounds of any Dominican anusim…
…This group has a remarkable history. For the past 25 years, they have met on the Shabbat, reading from the only version of the Torah available to them: just one precious book written in Spanish and containing the Five Books of Moses. It has been lovingly circulated amongst the community’s leaders. Taken home by one of them weekly, the Book then studied and used by that person as he led the group for his appointed week. With no Jewish guidance as to the established meanings of the passages, the community followed the Bible literally as they understood it. For Passover they took a lamb into the woods and slaughtered it, kosher style.
When they met Torres their lives began to change. He held Rosh Ha Shonah services in the spacious courtyard of his home. They rallied to purchase a building with a sanctuary, classrooms and dormitories for men and women so that they might observe the Sabbath without traveling. For Hanukah, Torres successfully petitioned the government for permission to erect a huge menorah in one of Santo Domingo ‘s busiest intersections. Torres didn’t stop there; he got the government to donate land for a synagogue, a Jewish cemetery and a Jewish hospital. A rabbi has consented to help bring them back to Judaism and possible aliyah to Israel .
NOTE: Hordes and Kunin are leading Crypto Judiac scholars. Hordes published The Sephardic Legacy in the Spanish Caribbean: Crypto-Jewish Settlement in Cuba, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Jamica in the Spring 2009 premiere issue of Crypto Jewish Journal.
The article is not online.
I admit that I don’t understand the politics of the DR Jewish and Crypto-Jewish community Of course, Torres Puello, who seems to be a talented con artist, could have been blowing smoke at Ezratty. Ezratty, however, met some people who considered Torres a “leader,” participated in events, and was impressed enough with him and his “congregation” to write about him, recommend him to Hordes and Kunin, and send a positive report back to Zeller, although I have found no reference to Torres Puello on the Kalanu webpage. I have found no reference, either, to a menorah in downtown Santo Domingo. Was Ezaratty sold a bill of goods? Maybe
But, there are other references to Torres Puello showing he may not be as invisible as the DR Jewish community would like him to be:
The February 14, 2010 Wall Street Journal, offers this tidbit, which almost makes Torres Puello feel like Laura Silsby’s soulmate, and ties back to what Ezratty wrote:
Isaac Rudman, the president of the Israelite Center of the Dominican Republic, said he once met Mr. Puello two or three years back. At the time, Mr. Puello introduced himself as Jorge Torres, and had a letter of introduction from a synagogue in Canada, Mr. Rudman said.
Mr. Rudman said he heard over the years that Mr. Puello had grandiose plans to build a hospital and a Jewish city close to Santo Domingo’s airport, but nothing came from these plans.
Mr. Rudman’s impression from his one meeting with Mr. Puello was that he was very “conflictive,” he said. “His attitude was ‘the Messiah has arrived'” said Mr. Rudman.
Wiki, due to its open source, can be vulnerable to Torres Puello’s charms. Jorge Yoram Torres, for instance, made an appearance in El Salvador with History of Jews in El Salvador:
During the civil war many Jews left the country. The Comunidad Israelita de El Salvador was established in 1944 with a Jewish community center opening in 1945 and a synagogue in 1950 and in 2008 the Sephardic Orthodox Jewish Council of America and the Sephardic Jewish Community is founded by Jorge Yoram Torres.
Jorge Yoram Torres also showed up in Puerto Rico in the wiki biography of Luis de Torres , probably born Yosef Ben Ha Levy Haivri. de Torres traveled on Columbus’s first expedition. possiibly against his will. He is considered the first Jew to settle in the New World:
In the Bahamas there are two synagogues that bear the name of “Luis de Torres.”
Luis de Torres, ended his days as he was called Borinquen Pierto Rico, near a town called Lares, which bears a name from the letter Reish The name is thought to have been given one of his students of languages. Today the descendants of the second marriage of Don Luis de Torres as he was known, are in this town of Puerto Rico, Don George Torres and his son Don Jorge “Yoram” Torres and their direct descendants.
I printed out the above entry at 11:45 PM, February 13, 2010. By 6:04 AM on February 14, 2010 , when I went to pick up the link, those those paragraphs had mysteriously disappeared.
On March 16, 2009 Jorge Torres. Jr. filed papers with the Florida Secretary of State to incorporate the for-profit Sephardic Orthodox Jewish Council of America, Inc. Torres is listed as registered agent and president, Ana Ramirez vice president, and Ester Orellana treasurer. All three have Linkedin pages, but little information on them.. There are possible links to other corporatons, but that will take awhile to track down, so I’m skipping that for now.
The corporration submits its purpose as:
Represent[ing]the Sephardic Jewish comunities in the Americas, and establing synagoges and performing religious marriages, conversion, kosher certification, Rabbi appointment and kosher supervisors, arbitratin and mediation services.
The principal address is listed in Doral, Florida and the mailing address is in the Bosques de Lourdes section of la Liberdad, El Salvador. It appears to be the house where the young women were held captive (left)
“Jorge Yoran Torres -President of the Sephardic Orthodox Jewish Council of America and B’nei Anusim advocate” appears on numerous Jewish websites in what appears to be lifted–again– from wiki. Included in these very long entries is a directory of Sephardic synagogues around the world. There is no listing for the Dominican Republic but we find this for El Salvador:
Sephardic Orthodox Jewish Council of Salvador “Shearit Israel” (2008)
http://sephardicjews.org; http://www.kosheresavaldor.com (neither of which work)
the only orthodox synagogue in El Salvador
But there’s a problem. There is only one synagogue in the whole country, and it’s not the Orthodox Council.
Jorge Torres Puello, like Laura Silsby, is a self-promotor, a narcissist, a reinventor, and a liar. He is a sex trafficker. She is an adoption trafficker. Both compartmentalize their lives with religion and corruption. Both commodify children and women.. Both believe that they are above the law. I honestly can’t imagine why Torres Pulleo positioned himself in the middle of an international incident pretending to be a lawyer, especially with the voice-in-my heads from Central Valley Baptist Church and their brain inept leader. And why would the CVBC christo-colonials take Torres Puello’s word sight unseen? A gift from God, no doubt. But, then, everything about this case is crazy.
There is growing evidence the Torres Pulleo had no prior relationship with most of the detainees. I am not convinced of Laura Sisby, though. There are, in fact, still many areas to look in to outside of Silsby. One should be the relationship between Puelleo and sex tourist real estate and rental agents. Another is a possible link between Torres Puello and CIA trafficking. How far has the sex ring investigation gone? Trafficking demands more than three players. And of course, what was Puello up to, whether he knew Laura Silsby before or after.