BOISE – 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.
Silsby has been the subject of eight civil lawsuits and 14 unpaid wage claims. The $358,000 Meridian, Idaho, 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 Idaho businesswoman. In 1999, she founded an Internet business. As CEO of PersonalShopper.com, 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’s former marketing director, Robin Oliver, of Eagle, Idaho, 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.