‘I did the right thing,’ he says in his defence

Faces charges that could earn him a year in jail

Admits to being part of plan to abandon baby

NEW YORK: A cab driver said he was just trying to do “the right thing” when he told a tall tale of finding a baby girl abandoned in his car.

Driver Klever Sailema, who prosecutors say faces charges that could earn him a year in jail for his role in the scheme to abandon the six-month-old girl, told the Daily News in Monday’s editions that he lied in order to save the child.

“I feel bad, but ultimately I feel like I did the right thing,” the 44-year-old Ecuadorean immigrant said. “My intentions were not to lie to the police.”

Sailemao had been hailed as a hero after he took the baby to a firehouse and told the authorities an unknown man had left her in his car and disappeared. He was arraigned in Queens Criminal court late on Saturday on charges of falsely reporting an incident and criminal facilitation. His girlfriend, Maria Siavichay, was arraigned on a charge of criminal facilitation. A Criminal Court released Sailema and Siavichay, 21, without bail and ordered them to appear in court April 7. The baby’s 14-year-old mother probably would not be charged because of her age, the police said. The baby’s father, identified by the police only as Siavichay’s 27-year-old brother, was being sought.

A spokesman for the District Attorney said Siavichay’s brother could face statutory rape charges for having sex with the 14-year-old girl.

A lawyer for Sailema and Siavichay said the driver had “acted responsibly for the welfare of the child.”

A state safe haven law allows parents unable to care for newborns to leave them anonymously at hospitals, police stations or firehouses without risking prosecution, but it applies only to children up to five days old.

Sailema said he was asked to drop off the girl, Daniella, at the firehouse because he was the only one in the country legally. He said Siavichay pleaded with him to drop off the girl. Finally, he said he relented.

“I was afraid the baby might end up abandoned in the bitter cold,’ Sailema told the News. “I knew the baby would be taken care of and be in good hands. There was nothing else to be done.”

Sailema was briefly the toast of New York City after he delivered the baby to a Queens firehouse on Thursday. A day later, under questioning by detectives, he admitted he knew the mother’s family in the Bronx and had participated in the plan to abandon the baby. The baby has been placed in a foster home. — AP