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In Haiti, U.S. woman's actions, past invite scrutiny

BOISE, Idaho - In the days after the Haiti earthquake, Laura Silsby made a series of calls around the country to mobilize a trip to rescue orphaned children from the disaster.

She enlisted members of her Baptist church and told them she had all the necessary paperwork. She even found a Kentucky couple, Richard and Malinda Pickett, who had been trying to adopt three siblings from Haiti and told them she could get the children out.

The Picketts say they politely declined, figuring the youngsters were safe and would soon be evacuated to their new home.

"My wife told her that under no conditions should she try to move the kids - that would just interfere with our plans. But she called two more times, and the last time she called, on the 25th, she said she was getting on a flight and would like to pick up our kids," Pickett said. "My wife, for the third time, told her no way - stay away from them."

A few days later, Silsby and nine other Americans were charged in Haiti with kidnapping, accused of trying to take 33 children out of the country without proper documentation. The 10 remain in jail in Haiti.

The Haitian and U.S. governments are investigating Silsby and her group, trying to determine why they were rounding up children, many of whom were not orphans. Silsby and her supporters say they just wanted to save youngsters from the chaos and disease of quake-ravaged Haiti. Others, like the Picketts, aren't convinced.

In a closer look at Silsby, 40, the adoption fiasco seems to follow a pattern seen in her life. The businesswoman and mother of three has been known to make big promises and big plans that often give way to questionable behavior and legal action.

Court records show she has a habit of failing to pay employees, creditors and taxes. In the last year alone her home went into foreclosure and a number of legal proceedings against her and her business wended their way through Idaho's courts.

All of this happened as she became highly passionate about helping kids in the Dominican Republic, according to those who know her.

"She had explained that she felt absolutely driven in her heart to open an orphanage in the Dominican Republic," said Nancy Batteen, owner of a children's clothing store in Boise.

Silsby showed her knack for achievement early, earning a high school diploma at 15, according to an old news release from her company. She went on to study business administration and accounting at Washington State University, graduating summa cum laude in 1991.

Silsby divorced her husband, Terry Silsby, in 2007; the two sides are still fighting in court.

It is not clear whether her money problems were related to the adoption effort in Haiti, but the financial aspects of the trip will be scrutinized during the investigation.

The Picketts said they were immediately suspicious of Silsby. They didn't need her help - they already had permission to pick up the children. But Silsby persisted, they said. When the orphanage in Haiti told her the three siblings had been moved, she asked for any other kids she could have, Richard Pickett said.

"She asked for kids at each of the orphanages, and . . . when no one would give her any, she cried," Pickett said. "Why would you cry after you see these kids are being taken care of?"

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