Ex-Aristide aide tells of payoffs
The ex-security chief for former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide testified that a drug-trafficking defendant gave him regular payoffs to safeguard shipments. He didn't implicate Aristide.
BY JAY WEAVER
The former chief of security for ousted Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide testified Tuesday that a powerful drug-trafficking defendant on trial gave him and other law enforcement officials hundreds of thousands of dollars to protect his alleged cocaine shipments to the United States.
But Oriel Jean did not implicate the former president, exiled in South Africa since his ouster last year, saying only that he and others received money from reputed Haitian drug kingpin Serge Edouard to help export tons of Colombian cocaine.
Prosecutor Lynn Kirkpatrick, however, did not explicitly ask Jean if he or Edouard ever gave any money to the deposed president in recent years, when Haiti was known as ''narco-country'' because of the stream of cocaine moving through the island.
Jean said he gave Edouard a national security badge in 2002 that allowed him to travel throughout the country without having to be searched by Haitian National Police or other law enforcement officials in the capital or at the airport.
''He told me that I was a member of the organization and that he would share his profits,'' said Jean, 40, testifying in Creole. Edouard, he said, gave him $40,000 and and bought him a $25,000 Toyota luxury vehicle that came with a rebate.
Jean -- who has pleaded guilty to a money-laundering conspiracy charge and hopes to reduce his upcoming sentence -- is the first witness close to Aristide to testify in the first trial involving a major Haitian drug-trafficking defendant in the 3-year-old federal probe. The trial is expected to end this week.
MILLIONS IN COCAINE
Edouard, 43, is accused of shipping tons of cocaine in shoes, suitcases and cargo containers on American Airlines flights to the United States and pocketing more than $15 million. He allegedly spent the money on homes, businesses and speedboats, and opened bank accounts for his half-dozen children, according to an indictment.
At least 13 other defendants have been charged in the investigation, led by the Drug Enforcement Administration, FBI and IRS. They continue to focus on Aristide as a target.
No evidence, however, has been presented in court that links the deposed president to the alleged cocaine-smuggling and money-laundering conspiracy. But at a sentencing hearing last year, another convicted Haitian cocaine smuggler, Jacques Ketant, blurted out that Aristide was a ''drug lord.'' The statement was not made under oath.
Aristide's attorney called the characterization ``political assassination.''
On Tuesday, Jean said a former Haitian National Police commander, Hermione Leonard, introduced him to Edouard in December 2001 or January 2002.
By then, Jean said that he and other senior police and airport security officials were already taking kickbacks from Colombian and Haitian drug-traffickers who used the impoverished island to ship cocaine to South Florida, New York and Canada.
Leonard is believed to be in custody in the Dominican Republic, awaiting extradition to the United States.
Jean said the Haitian National Police's chief of security at the Port-au-Prince airport, Romaine Lestin, was key to moving Edouard's alleged cocaine shipments to the United States. He also said Lestin arranged for payments in U.S. currency to arrive at the airport so that Edouard could receive proceeds from the alleged drug sales.
Lestin is awaiting his own trial.
Another critical suspect, Evintz Brillant, former head of the Haitian National Police's anti-narcotics brigade, also faces trial.
Jean described Edouard as a benevolent ''boss,'' who took care of family members, law enforcement officials and the Port-au-Prince police, including buying them cruisers.
Even Edouard's half-brothers -- twins Hugues and Hubert, who have been convicted and testified against him on Tuesday -- said that he took care of them after their father died in 1993.
He brought them into the family's lottery business and then they became partners in his alleged cocaine business, they testified.
Both half-brothers, 35, said they were assisting prosecutors to reduce their sentences and to come clean.