The Idaho woman who led a group of 10 Baptists on a mission to help children in Haiti admits to failing to obtain paperwork needed to move 33 children to the Dominican Republic.
But even before Laura L. Silsby and seven other Idahoans ended up in a Haitian jail accused of trafficking in children, Silsby had a history of failing to pay debts, failing to pay her employees and failing even to follow Idaho laws.
On Thursday, a judge in Haiti charged Silsby and nine other Americans with child kidnapping for trying to take 33 children out of the country after the earthquake. The Americans were whisked away to jail in Port-au-Prince, Haiti's capital.
Under Haiti's legal system, there won't be an open trial, but a judge will consider the evidence. It could take the judge three months to render a verdict. Each of the kidnapping counts carries a possible sentence of five to 15 years in prison.
In Idaho, Silsby has been the subject of eight civil lawsuits and 14 unpaid wage claims. The $358,000 Meridian house at which she founded her nonprofit New Life Children's Refuge in November was foreclosed upon in December. A check of Silsby's driving record revealed at least nine traffic citations since 1997, including four for failing to provide insurance or register annually.
Silsby is a longtime Treasure Valley businesswoman. In 1999, she founded an Internet business. As CEO of PersonalShopper.com near Overland and Maple Grove roads, the mother of three was named eWomenNetwork's international businesswoman of the year in 2006.
Three years later, building an orphanage for Haitian and Dominican children became Silsby's vision, and the 40-year-old brought others on board, including her 24-year-old nanny, Charisa Coulter.
"The folks in the church embraced their vision, and it became a shared vision," said Coulter's father, Mel. "The church made it part of their missions program."
But Silsby's failure to work with Haitian authorities before trying to take children from the country last week has many questioning the woman and the cause.
Members of her church, Central Valley Baptist in Meridian, did not return calls Wednesday.
An e-mail circulated Wednesday at PersonalShopper.com urged employees not to speak to the press or post any information on Web sites. "Given the aggressive nature of the press and the fabrications already being invented, we need to make sure nothing in writing is published that can be misconstrued in any way," the e-mail says. Employees also were given the option to work from home to avoid reporters.
Fourteen claims, including two by the same employee, were filed against Personal Shopper Inc. for nonpayment of wages between March 14, 2008, and July 21, 2009, according to the Idaho Department of Labor.
Those claims led to nine liens against Personal Shopper Inc. The determination involved $21,460 in wages and $6,000 in penalties.
Five were appealed, dismissed or dropped.
The business' former marketing director, Robin Oliver of Eagle, filed a civil suit against Silsby and Personal Shopper Inc. in October for alleged unpaid wages, wrongful termination and fraud.
The suit says that Oliver was promised an annual salary of $110,000, with twice-monthly payments of $4,583.33. The suit alleges that Personal Shopper was delinquent on five payments, for a total unpaid wage claim of $22,016.65.
"In multiple e-mails during 2009, Ms. Silsby repeatedly told plaintiff that she had investors 'committed,' that the money was being 'wired,' and that investors were going to be providing funds," the suit says.
Silsby is due in 4th District Court at 2:45 p.m. next Wednesday; a jury trial is scheduled for Feb. 22.
Court records show that Silsby also is due in court in March to answer for another civil suit against her.
Beer & Cain, a Boise law firm, filed a civil suit against Silsby in January this year. The suit says Silsby owes the firm $4,526.59 and interest for services rendered. "The demand for payment was made on May 20, 2008, February 4, 2009, and April 3, 2009," the suit says.
Attorney Dennis Cain declined Wednesday to comment on the suit.
SUITS, TRAFFIC INFRACTIONS
Court records also show that Silsby has been sued by several seeking payment for services or return of goods:
- On July 28, 2009, Disaster Kleenup in the Treasure Valley sued Eric Evans, Evans Construction and Silsby, asking for a lien in the amount of $3,225.79. A notice of voluntary dismissal with prejudice was recorded Nov. 8.
- On April 20, 2009, Les Schwab Tire on South Main Street in Meridian filed a suit for nonpayment. The business received a default judgment on July 2 in the amount of $1,058.91.
- On Feb. 12, 2009, Farm Bureau Finance Co. sued for return of a 2008 Yamaha YFM 25 RXL ATV, valued at $2,740, from the home where the New Life Children's Refuge was based. A default judgment was entered May 7.
- On Aug. 28, 2007, Collection Bureau Inc. sued for $731.33, not including attorney's fees and costs. The suit says the money was owed to the Kuna Rural Fire District for services. Silsby defaulted, her wages were garnisheed and the $1,077.33 judgment later was set aside.
- Two other small-claims cases in 2000 and 2002 were dismissed before trial or hearing.
- Silsby logged numerous traffic infractions. She was cited four times for failure to provide insurance/failure to register annually (1997, 1998, 1999 and 2001; the latter was dismissed). She was cited four times for speeding or driving too fast for conditions (2000, 2005, 2006 and 2007).
DEFAULT ON HOUSE
It's unclear where Silsby resides, though Mel Coulter said he believes she lives in South Boise.
Her 16-year marriage to Terry L. Silsby, a real estate agent, ended in divorce in January 2007, according to marriage records.
Reached by phone Wednesday, Terry Silsby declined to comment.
Laura Silsby bought a house at 2828 S. Alfani Way in Meridian on Nov. 10, 2008. On Dec. 7, 2009, MetLife Home Loans foreclosed on the $358,500 house, according to the Ada County Recorder's Office.