Haitian strongman found guilty in US court

NEW YORK, United States, July 28, 2008 – Former Haitian paramilitary leader Emmanuel “Toto” Constant has been found guilty of grand larceny and mortgage fraud, but will have to wait another month and a half to hear what his punishment will be.
A jury in Brooklyn found him guilty in the operation of a scheme that cheated mortgage lenders out of US$1.7 million. He will be sentenced on September 10 and faces the possibility of 15 years in prison.

Mr Constant, 51, was the head of the feared paramilitary group, Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti, which for three years spread terror after the ousting of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1991. The group has been accused of being responsible for murder, rape and other torture of thousands of Haitians during that time.

He fled to the United States after Mr Aristide returned to power in 1994 and settled in Queens, where he ran what he called a brokerage business.

Prosecutors alleged that Mr Constant bought homes and sold them at inflated prices to straw buyers – people who were paid to apply for loans that were not going to be repaid. The loan proceeds were allegedly divvied up among accomplices.

Mr Constant had tried to negotiate a plea bargain, asking for a sentence of time served, 10 months, then deportation to Haiti. But Supreme Court Justice Abraham Gerges rejected the deal, saying the charges facing Mr Constant in Haiti are heinous and “the court cannot in good conscience consent to the previously negotiated sentence”.

His lawyer, Samuel Karliner, said his client was disappointed in the verdict and “believes he didn’t do anything wrong”.

But human rights activists reacted with satisfaction to news of the jury’s decision.

Senior attorney with the Centre for Constitutional Rights, Jennie Green said it exposed the former Haitian strongman for “the crook that he is”.

“Hopefully, we will be able to expose him for the human rights violator he is,” she added.

“That a jury of his peers has found Constant guilty of his serious economic crimes against the people of New York gives CCR and his victims hope that he will soon be brought to justice for his crimes in Haiti that included the murder and rape and other torture of thousands more.  We hope that after he serves a stiff sentence in New York, he faces trial for those crimes.” (CaribWorldNews)