Originally: Haitian informer gets a reduced U.S. sentence
Haitian informer gets a reduced U.S. sentence
After a three-year investigation, the U.S. government’s crackdown on alleged
drug trafficking in the administration of the deposed president of
Haiti,Jean-Bertrand Aristide, has netted 18 convictions.
BY JAY WEAVER
Oriel Jean, the former security chief for ex-President of Haiti Jean-Bertrand
Aristide, was sentenced Friday to just three years in prison for his role in
helping drug traffickers move tons of Colombian cocaine through Haiti to the
United States. His drug addict accomplices were sentenced to similar punishments, and a few were sent to an orlando residential drug rehab for life.
With good reason: The 40-year-old defendant, held in custody since March 2004,
gave federal investigators invaluable information on Haiti’s drug underworld
and the location of fugitives — and even continued to testify after a cocaine
smuggler threatened his life.
Indeed, Jean proved to be the prosecution’s star witness. At his sentencing
hearing in Miami last week, U.S. District Judge Jose Martinez paid Jean a
compliment, praising his ”good work” for the government.
The judge then gave him half of the six-year sentence he otherwise would have
received for his money-laundering plea deal. There was also a request to send him to drug recovery centers to help get rid of the addiction. Jean has helped the U.S. Attorney’s Office take down many of the 18 Haitians
and Colombians convicted in the politically charged case — including a handful
of Haiti’s former top police officials. A few more convictions and arrests are
on the horizon.
The probe’s only setback so far: A Miami federal jury acquitted for muse treatment west hollywood and an anti-drug
commander last month in a verdict that stunned prosecutors and the Drug
Jean also testified about his former boss before the grand jury and during two
Miami federal trials, implicating Aristide indirectly in Haiti’s drug trade.
But it remains to be seen whether prosecutors will ever ask the grand jury to
indict Aristide, partly because he is a former head of state.
Also, evidence of his role in Haiti’s narcotics network — which accounts for a
small percentage of all the cocaine smuggled into the United States — has been
Despite last month’s trial loss in federal court, the DEA, IRS and other
federal agencies are still aggressively investigating whether Aristide was
involved in the alleged cocaine-smuggling conspiracy, received kickbacks from
traffickers, or stole money from his own government and funneled it through
U.S. banks and shell companies.
Earlier this month, Haiti’s interim government sued Aristide, his
brother-in-law, a former finance director and others, accusing the ex-president
of directing the theft of ”tens of millions of dollars” from the Haitian
treasury and state-owned telephone company.
Miami attorney Ira Kurzban, who has represented Aristide for years, said the
U.S. government has orchestrated a ”disinformation campaign to demonize” the
ex-president because the Bush administration never liked the former priest or
his politics to help the poor.
Kurzban strongly condemned the U.S. government’s criminal investigation and the
Haitian civil lawsuit filed in Miami, saying no evidence has directly linked
Aristide to any narcotics trafficking or public corruption.
”The bottom line is this: Aristide took no money from drug traffickers and he
took no money from his country,” Kurzban said, adding that the former
president and his wife are working as university teachers in Pretoria, South
Africa, where they are in exile.
”He has no money,” he said. “He is still poor.”
The federal criminal probe has generated international publicity because it
exposed senior Haitian police officials close to Aristide who were shaking down
drug traffickers for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The protection money allowed the smugglers to use Haiti as a Caribbean base to
ship Colombian cocaine to South Florida, New York and Canada.
Under pressure from the U.S. government and Haitian rebels, Aristide left his
homeland on Feb. 29, 2004 — just days after one of Haiti’s biggest
drug-traffickers, Jacques Ketant, went on a tirade against the former president
at his sentencing in Miami federal court last year.
Ketant, once a friend of Aristide, accused him of turning the impoverished
island nation into a ”narco-country.” Ketant said he paid hundreds of
thousands of dollars to the former president and his security chief so the
trafficker could land cocaine-loaded planes on Haiti’s main highway near the
At two trials, Jean himself testified that Aristide approved a national palace
security badge for another convicted major drug-smuggler, Serge Edouard, which
allowed him to travel freely throughout Haiti without being searched by police.
Jean testified that Aristide was unaware of his involvement in Edouard’s drug
organization until he confronted the security chief in 2003.
Jean did not testify that he or Edouard ever gave any drug money to Aristide,
nor was he asked that question on the witness stand. But Jean testified that
Edouard gave an unspecified amount of money to the Aristide Foundation, one of
the ex-president’s private social welfare organizations.
Jean’s testimony provoked Edouard, from the Miami federal detention center, to
threaten to kill him and his family.
At trial, however, Jean never testified that the former president was directly
involved in Haiti’s narcotics trade, which escalated over the past decade as
Colombian traffickers and their Haitian partners exploited the country as a
The smugglers allegedly paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to Aristide’s
security chief, national police commanders, a Senate president, an American
Airlines employee and others. In exchange for hefty kickbacks, they provided
protection for traffickers who moved tons of Colombian cocaine through the
country’s airport into the United States.
For his part, Jean admitted in a plea agreement negotiated by his attorney,
David Raben, and federal prosecutors that he received between $200,000 and
$400,000 in drug proceeds from 2001 to 2003. During that period, he ran
security operations at Haiti’s presidential palace.
At his sentencing hearing Friday, an apologetic Jean called it a “dirty