Image: Laura Silsby
Esteban Felix  /  ASSOCIATED PRESS
U.S. missionary Laura Silsby is seen through the window of a car as she leaves a courthouse in Port-au-Prince, on Monday.
updated 5/18/2010 6:29:12 PM ET 2010-05-18T22:29:12

The leader of an American group detained while trying to take 33 children out of Haiti after the January earthquake returned Tuesday to Idaho, sidestepping questions about her conviction for arranging illegal travel.

Laura Silsby was freed Monday after she was convicted by a judge and sentenced to time already served in jail. She was welcomed at the Boise airport by her sister, mother and members of her Idaho church.

Silsby cried while hugging family members and sang a hymn with members of her church congregation.

Silsby, 40, organized the ill-fated effort to take the children to an orphanage being set up in the neighboring Dominican Republic.

The Idaho businesswoman declined to answer questions from reporters before leaving the airport with her sister and friend Charisa Coulter, another Idaho missionary 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.

Had been custody since Jan. 29
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 nine other Americans who also have been released.

After the missionaries were arrested, Silsby told the court she thought the children were orphans whose homes were destroyed in the earthquake. However, 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 investigation by The Associated Press 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 insisted they had only come to Haiti to help.

Silsby was convicted Monday of arranging illegal travel under a 1980 statute restricting movement from Haiti signed by then-dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier.

The crowd that greeted her at the airport was jubilant upon her arrival, for the most part.

A former employee of Silsby's now-defunct business Personal Shopper Inc. held a large sign that read: "Laura Where's My Paycheck?" The company closed in late March and is the subject of a host of lawsuits and unpaid wage claims.

Bryan Jack told the AP he was hired by the business in 2007, starting as an analyst then taking over its customer care department.

Jack said Silsby owes him $5,000 under a civil judgment handed down April 29.

"It's important the public knows she owes people money," said Jack, holding his sign above the crowd of church and family members who huddled around Silsby at the airport.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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