The Miami Herald
May. 15, 2003

American missionary defended

Arrest in Haiti called 'setup'


  When Haitian police arrested an American missionary for arms trafficking last week, officials said the man was part of a ''global'' plot to overthrow President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

  But family members and friends of jailed missionary James White, a 47-year-old former carpenter from Indiana, say he has pure intentions -- and bad luck with timing. The guns arrived just as five men were arrested for plotting a coup attempt.

  ''This sounds like a setup to me. My brother wouldn't be a part of any kind of conspiracy to overthrow the government,'' sister Linda Walker said in an interview from her home in Indiana.

  White was arrested Friday, after picking up a refrigerator that contained a powerful assault rifle used for military training that is the equivalent of an M-16, a .40-caliber pistol, gun powder and a bullet reloading machine, and at least one military-style camouflage outfit.

  The unusual contents belonged to a Bradenton man who says he was planning to move to Haiti to join White's mission.

  Jeremy Benenati, 28, a computer programmer who longed to be in the military but was turned away for health reasons, said he sent the weapons because he couldn't sell them before his voyage.

  However, a Haitian government spokesman said Wednesday that authorities continue to believe White was involved in a group plotting to overthrow Aristide, though they have declined to name the group.

  Benenati, who said he was unable to find a responsible buyer for the weapons, said he sent his gun permits ahead to White in Haiti, who sought permission to bring them into Haiti. But authorities told White, who since 2000 has run the Indiana-registered ''Sharing the Vision'' mission in Cap Haitien, that he had to wait until the arms hit Haitian soil, Benenati related Wednesday. When the arms arrived in the coastal town of Gonaives, White was arrested.

  ''My wife and I have been seriously battling feelings of guilt,'' Benenati said by phone from his Bradenton home on Wednesday.

  Benenati's story is inconsistent with what White told authorities in Port-au-Prince, Ira Kurzban, the government's attorney in the United States, said. At first White said the guns were meant for a pastor in Gonaives, and then said he was going to use them himself for hunting, the government has said.

  ''I have serious doubts this was just an innocent effort to bring guns to Haiti because he couldn't sell them,'' Kurzban said. ``It certainly is a serious offense, serious
  enough for somebody to get five to 15 years in the United States.''

  White was in the national penitentiary Wednesday and unavailable for comment. By late Wednesday White had not seen a judge.

  ''I'm just praying this is over soon,'' White's wife, Theresa, who lives with their two teenage children in Cap Haitien, said after visiting her husband in prison.

  Herald special correspondent Jane Regan in Port-au-Prince contributed to this report.