Originally: U.S. charges Haitian police commander with drug smuggling
MIAMI – A former Haitian airport police commander was accused Tuesday of working with other high-level police and drug traffickers to move Colombian cocaine shipments through the Caribbean nation to the United States.
Romaine Lestin was expelled from the Dominican Republic on Friday and appeared in court for the first time Tuesday on a criminal complaint charging him with a cocaine smuggling conspiracy. He is the sixth Haitian official to face U.S. drug charges since Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was ousted in February.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Dube ordered Lestin to be jailed until a bail hearing Friday, but Assistant U.S. Attorney Lynn Kirkpatrick asked that he be held until trial as a flight risk and danger to the community. Lestin, 35, could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
Lestin, who also served as head of a Haitian SWAT team and police commander in the Haitian community of Tabre, allegedly took kickbacks to provide security for drug flights through Haiti’s Port-au-Prince airport and split some of the money with other officers, according to a newly unsealed complaint written in May.
A Drug Enforcement Administration agent, who wrote a six-page summary of allegations by four informants against Lestin, focused on police squabbling over their shares of protection money.
A trafficker turned informant, identified by attorneys for other Haitian drug defendants as imprisoned drug kingpin Beaudouin “Jacques” Ketant, claimed Lestin was part of his drug organization.
Jude Perrin, head of the Haitian judicial police, threatened to put the trafficker out of business in April 2003 unless he was cut in, and the trafficker paid Lestin $20,000 to deliver to Perrin, DEA agent Noble Harrison wrote. Perrin has not been charged in the United States.
The trafficker also told the DEA that he and another smuggler paid Perrin a total of $100,000 to protect a 528-pound cocaine load, and Lestin complained later that he didn’t get his share.
The trafficker said he often met Lestin at the police commander’s home to plan and coordinate cocaine deliveries moving through the airport, and Lestin sent an officer to the trafficker’s house to pick up cocaine for U.S. flights.
Another informant described as a former Haitian government official told the DEA that other Haitian police felt Lestin was being too stingy when it came to spreading the wealth. The informant remembered getting $5,000 from Lestin at least four times.
Lestin was an associate of Haitian trafficker Sergo Edouard and received payments of $6,000, $3,000 and $2,000 from Lestin for Edouard’s drug shipments, the informant said.
The same informant said he, Lestin and other Haitian police officials negotiated the return of $300,000 out of $450,000 seized from Colombian drug trafficker Carlos Ovalle, who later agreed to pay a percentage of his profits from shipments through the airport.
Another Haitian police officer now cooperating with the DEA claimed he received payoffs personally from Lestin.
Lestin was arrested Thursday by Dominican police acting on a U.S. warrant at a hotel near the capital city of Santo Domingo and was flown to the United States on a DEA plane, said Joe Killmer, spokesman for the DEA in Miami.