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Haitian lawyer for jailed US missionaries fired

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FRANK BAJAK and MICHELLE FAUL | February 7, 2010 07:18 AM EST | AP

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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The Haitian lawyer for 10 U.S. Baptists charged with child kidnapping tried to bribe the missionaries' way out of jail and has been fired, the attorney who hired him said Saturday night.

The Haitian lawyer, Edwin Coq, denied the allegation. He said the $60,000 he requested from the Americans' families was his fee.

Jorge Puello, the attorney in the neighboring Dominican Republic retained by relatives of the 10 American missionaries after their arrest last week, told The Associated Press that he fired Coq on Friday night. He had hired Coq to represent the detainees at Haitian legal proceedings.

Coq orchestrated "some kind of extortion with government officials" that would have led to the release of nine of the 10 missionaries, Puello charged.

"He had some people inside the court that asked him for money, and he was part of this scheme," Puello said.

Coq denied the requested $60,000 payment amounted to a bribe.

"I have worked for 10 people for four days working all hours," he said. "Look at what hour I'm working now, responding to these calls. I have the right to this money."

On Friday, Coq had told the AP that he was working for no fee.

Puello said Coq initially requested $10,000 but kept asking for bigger and bigger amounts. He said that when Coq reached $60,000, he said he could guarantee it would lead to the Americans' release.

A magistrate charged the group's members Thursday with child kidnapping and criminal association for trying to take 33 children out of earthquake-ravaged Haiti without the proper documents.

The Americans said they were a humanitarian mission to rescue orphans after Haiti's catastrophic Jan. 12 quake.

But at least 20 of the children had living parents. Some told the AP they gave the kids to the group because the missionaries promised to educate them at an orphanage in the Dominican Republic and said they would allow parents to visit.

Coq said Thursday that the group's leader, Laura Silsby of Meridian, Idaho, deceived the others by telling them she had the proper documents to remove the children from Haiti.

The Dominican consul in Haiti, Carlos Castillo, has said he warned Silsby on Jan. 29, the day the group was detained at the border, that she lacked the required papers and risked being arrested for child trafficking.

Asked if Silsby had deceived the other nine Baptists by assuring them she had the proper papers, Puello said Saturday, "I believe that is true."

He referred further questions on that issue to Sean Lankford, also of Meridian and the husband and father of two of the jailed missionaries.

Reached by the AP on Saturday night, Lankford would not comment. "I don't have time right now to talk to you," he said.

NBC News reported Saturday that there are divisions within the jailed group.

It said some of the missionaries handed an NBC producer a note through bars of their holding cell earlier in the day that listed the names of all of them but Silsby and her former nanny and partner in the orphanage, Charisa Coulter.

"We only came as volunteers. We had nothing to do with any documents and have been lied to," NBC quoted the note as saying. "Please we fear our lives."