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U.S. pastor stuck in Haitian jail without charges

JACMEL, Haiti — It's become a running joke of sorts, a cruel one for Danny Pye: Nearly every week authorities tell the U.S. missionary he will be freed from his Haitian jail cell "next week," that the man who cared for Haitian orphans will be home with his own daughter and pregnant wife "next week."

But the weeks go by, and almost nothing has changed since Pye found himself abruptly jailed last October.

"I've been told it was supposed to happen pretty much every week for the last five months," Pye told the Associated Press during a brief talk at his cell.

There are no charges filed against the 29-year-old Christian pastor. He initially was ordered into 90-day custody pending an investigation into claims he had taken property belonging to a U.S.-based ministry. The order even surprised ministry leaders, who thought they had settled the dispute.

Pye was momentarily freed on Christmas Eve. But as he and his wife, Leanne, walked to their car, a police officer approached, handed Danny Pye a warrant, and marched him back to jail in handcuffs. Later, he was told that questions had arisen about the validity of his residency card.

Pye, who waits in a 10-by-12-foot cell shared with nearly 30 other men, is no newcomer to Haiti.

He and Leanne moved from Bradenton in 2004 to launch their Joy in Hope ministry in Jacmel, a picturesque town on Haiti's southern coast. The widespread poverty can be overwhelming for some foreigners, she said, but the couple was happy there.

"Haiti, it's just a very simple life," Leanne Pye said from Bradenton, where she is awaiting the birth of their son, expected this month.

Then came the earthquake of Jan. 12, 2010. As aid workers, fellow missionaries and journalists spilled into Haiti, Pye became a well-known contact, one whose fluent Creole and experience in Haiti made him a valuable resource.

But after the quake, the Joy in Hope ministry itself was shaken: According to Pye, he and another couple became locked in a struggle for control of the North Carolina-based mission.

Last August, Pye was dismissed by the mission's board, leading him and his wife to create a separate orphanage for the 22 children under their care that they named Kenbe Fem, Creole for "Hold Strong."

Joy in Hope director Brian Williams declined to give details about Pye's dismissal, blaming it only on "organizational issues."

When he left, Pye took five trucks and several small motorcycles that were registered in his name but were purchased with the ministry's money. The two sides went to court and Pye agreed to sign over the vehicles, as well as any claim to about 17 acres of oceanfront land near Jacmel that the ministry hopes to develop.

Both parties say they expected the deal would end the dispute. But at a meeting on Oct. 13, a judge ordered Pye into custody. He was handcuffed and led out.

Williams, interviewed by phone from Cary, N.C., said he, too, was surprised. "We were shocked that he was arrested that day because we were told it was resolved."

Haitian authorities have said little about Pye's case. A court date has not been set.

Judge Maxon Samdi, who ordered the detention, did not respond to requests for comment. A fellow judge, Carlo Jean Louis, said Samdi has been seriously ill and is unavailable.

Justice Minister Paul Denis said he received a letter from U.S. Ambassador Kenneth Merten about the case, and the two would meet to discuss it. "I believe the case will be moving forward," he said.

U.S. pastor stuck in Haitian jail without charges 03/06/11 [Last modified: Sunday, March 6, 2011 11:22pm]
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