Originally: Drug suspect is linked to Haiti scandal

An admitted Colombian cocaine trafficker held at the Lake County Jail figures prominently in the federal drug-related indictments of former top Haitian police chiefs and a security aide to ex-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, court records show.

Carlos Ovalle, 44, awaits a sentence later this month in Ocala after pleading guilty last year to trafficking cocaine and laundering proceeds from 2000 to 2003.

Federal agents and informants have said they suspect Ovalle, also known as “Papi” or “Daddy” in Spanish, of smuggling at least $40 |million worth of cocaine from Haiti to the United States in the past decade.

According to his plea agreement, Ovalle spoke by phone several times with Central Florida-based undercover agents and informants of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to discuss transporting cocaine to Central Florida.

In three weeks in 2000, the agents — posing as money launderers — received $2 million from Ovalle’s associates in South Florida and deposited it in a bank for Ovalle, records show.

Although DEA officials have not singled out Aristide publicly, it has been widely reported that he remains someone of interest to the U.S. authorities looking into trafficking, money laundering and corruption during Aristide’s presidency. Ovalle, court records show, has been a central figure in the corruption scandal.

“Because of the political ramifications, we’re not discussing the particulars of this case,” said DEA Special Agent Joe Kilmer, a spokesman in the Miami office.

Until his arrest last August in Haiti and a subsequent flight to Orlando Sanford International Airport aboard a DEA jet, Ovalle lived in Haiti for at least 11 years, records show. The father of four, who married a Haitian citizen and owns a house in Haiti, often bribed his way through the airport in Port-au-Prince, where high-ranking police officers shook him down.

In return, investigators and informants say, he and others enjoyed police protection for cocaine-laden planes landing in Haiti and for U.S.-bound drug shipments.

Former top Aristide aides and police officials indicted on drug-trafficking charges and linked to Ovalle include:

Oriel Jean, the former presidential palace security chief arrested in Canada and extradited to Miami in March.

Jean Nesly Lucien, former police director arrested last week by the DEA at a brother’s home in Miami.

Evintz Brillant, former head of the anti-drug squad arrested last week in Port-au-Prince.

Rudy Therassan, ex-commander of police investigations arrested in Miami last month.

Jean-Marie Fourel Celestin, a former Haitian senator and Aristide ally arrested in Miami this week.

Ovalle, who is being held without bail until his June 23 sentence hearing, declined to be interviewed. Steven Amster, Ovalle’s Miami attorney, refused to discuss Ovalle’s role or whether he has any information about the former Aristide government.

“I really can’t go into detail right now,” said Amster, who acknowledged that his client fears retribution. “Anybody, whether they were cooperating or not, once you’re in jail, you’re considered a prime target because they [associates] don’t know what you’re doing.”

In the summer of 2002, court records show, several high-ranking police officials — including Lucien and Brillant — seized $450,000 from Ovalle at the Port-au-Prince airport and gave him back $300,000 while dividing the remaining $150,000 among themselves and others.

Longtime Haiti observers say the corruption of Aristide’s regime is not surprising in a poor, lawless country devoid of investment and international aid.

“That’s an open secret,” said former Aristide adviser James Morrell, now executive director of the nonprofit Haiti Democracy Project in Washington. “It couldn’t have gone on without his active involvement, and he had to be up to his ears in it.”

Ira Kurzban, a Miami lawyer who represents Aristide, has vehemently denied Aristide’s involvement in the drug trade. After the airport seizure in 2002, Ovalle has told investigators, he was summoned by Jean — Aristide’s ex-security chief — to a meeting in September 2002 where Jean told him that Ovalle would have to share a “cut” or percentage of his profits from future money shipments.

As early as August 2000, a Lake County deputy sheriff and an Orlando police officer, both members of a DEA task force, posed as money launderers and infiltrated Ovalle’s organization.

That month, according to Ovalle’s plea agreement, Deputy Gerry Montalvo traveled to Miami to pick up $964,855 in drug proceeds that was later deposited in a bank account in Fort Lauderdale. A few days later, Montalvo and fellow task force agent Juan Aponte of the Orlando police went to Miami to “launder” another $725,891 that belonged to Ovalle’s associates. The next month, another $389,655 was picked up and deposited in the DEA-controlled account.

By October 2000, Ricardo Pierre — an Ovalle associate — was stopped in Miami during a traffic stop and $498,650 was seized from him.

Through his plea, Ovalle agreed to forfeit the money in custody. His current lawyer, who replaced a federal public defender in February, said he may seek a change in the plea terms.

Ovalle, records show, told a DEA informant that his organization was “in a position to provide the agents with 100 kilograms of cocaine twice a month.” In response, the agents set up a bogus drug-running operation and sailed toward Haiti in 2002 to pick up the load. But Ovalle later claimed he was having trouble moving the cocaine. Efforts to smuggle drugs to Central Florida, possibly through Port Canaveral, continued until May 2003, when a federal grand jury in Jacksonville indicted Ovalle.

Pedro Ruz Gutierrez can be reached at pruz@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-5620.