Originally: Deals being cut as Haitian drug case nears trial
Days before former leaders of Haiti’s National Police are to face trial in Miami on drug-smuggling charges, two ex-security officers for deposed President Jean-Bertrand Aristide have signaled their willingness to cooperate with U.S. prosecutors.
Jean Nesly Lucien, the former director of Haiti’s National Police force and a defendant in the trial set to begin on April 18, faces a hearing next Tuesday to change his original plea of not guilty.
If, as expected, he pleads guilty in exchange for a lesser sentence than he’d face if convicted at trial, prosecutors are likely to ask him to provide information against his co-defendants: former National Police Commander Rudy Therassan, former chief of Port-au-Prince airport police Romaine Lestin and former Haitian anti-drug czar Evintz Brillant.
Allegations of a drug-smuggling conspiracy in Haiti’s police force surfaced in 2003 when Brillant was arrested by fellow officers for allowing a Colombian airplane carrying more than 1,000 kilos of cocaine to land on a highway near Port-au-Prince.
The four men are accused of taking hundreds of thousands of dollars from Colombian drug smugglers who used Haiti as a stepping-stone to the United States during Aristide’s presidency. All pleaded not guilty at their arraignments; only Lucien has scheduled a hearing to change his plea.
Another deal appears to be in the works in a case involving a fifth defendant, Oriel Jean, Aristide’s chief of palace security, who has been held in Miami’s federal detention center for more than a year.
On Friday, Jean pleaded not guilty to a single count of money laundering that was filed last week in an ”information” instead of an indictment, said his attorney, David Raben. Charging via information is often a sign that a plea deal is in the works and that the defendant is cooperating.
Raben declined to comment on whether his client is negotiating a deal with prosecutors.
Haitian officials have claimed that millions of dollars in unexplained checks were made out to Jean from a presidential account during Aristide’s administration. Jean has denied receiving such checks.
Aristide’s Miami attorney, Ira Kurzban, has said that any money withdrawn from presidential accounts was spent for legitimate public purposes.
Jean is expected to testify against the other Haitian officials if their trial before U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke goes forward as scheduled this month.
But there is a growing likelihood that prosecutors may strike plea deals with some other defendants, as part of an apparent attempt to build a case against Aristide, in exile in South Africa.
So far, no evidence linking Aristide to the alleged drug running and money laundering has been revealed in court, and his lawyer has maintained his innocence.
Attorneys for Aristide and Lucien could not be reached Friday evening.