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More suspects in assassination of Haiti President Jovenel Moïse brought to Miami

Miami Herald logo Miami Herald 1/31/2023 Jay Weaver, Jacqueline Charles, Miami Herald

A group of Haitian-American and Colombian suspects are en route to Miami from Haiti to face federal conspiracy charges in connection with the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse.

The four suspects are accused of helping coordinate a failed kidnapping of Haiti’s president to remove him from office upon his return from a state visit to Turkey in June of 2021, and then of conspiring in a final plan to kill him at his home in the hillside suburbs of Port-au-Prince the following month.

Three of the four suspects lived in South Florida: James Solages, who quit his job at a nursing home to go work for a security firm linked to a plot to remove Moïse from office; Joseph Vincent, a former Drug Enforcement Administration confidential informant; and Christian Emmanuel Sanon, a Haiti doctor and pastor who split his time between the United States and his Caribbean homeland and wanted to replace Moïse as president.

Also transferred with them to Miami: Germán Rivera Garcia, a retired Colombian colonel who is one of the alleged leaders of the deadly attack.

With these transfers from Haiti to Florida, a total of seven defendants have been charged in the murder conspiracy case filed in Miami federal court.

The South Florida probe, led by the FBI and Homeland Security Investigations with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, continues to focus on a Miami-area security company and its founder, Antonio “Tony” Intriago, who interacted with the suspects but has not been arrested or charged. Intriago’s attorney has maintained that he provided only bodyguard services for Sanon through his Counter Terrorist Unit (CTU) Security as part of Sanon’s presidential aspirations and knew nothing about a plot to kill Moïse.

The U.S. investigation into the assassination has unfolded in fits and starts over the past year and a half, a period of unprecedented gang violence and political upheaval in Haiti. Meanwhile, the Haitian government’s parallel probe is currently on its fifth investigative judge and has regained a bit of momentum after being stalled due to the turnover of judges. The case in Haiti has netted over 40 arrests but so far, no formal charges.

In recent weeks, the judge currently in charge of the case, Walther Wesser Voltaire, has summoned several suspects, including Solages and Sanon, to appear before him. Both men lived in South Florida prior to their arrests by Haiti’s national police after the July 7, 2021, assassination. They separately professed their innocence from behind the walls of Port-au-Prince’s National Penitentiary during interviews with the Miami Herald last year.

In trying to understand what happened the night the president was killed and the motives for his slaying, Voltaire has not only questioned individual suspects but also pitted some against each other because of their contradictory testimony. His tactics, however, have not been welcomed by all.

In December, lawyers representing the slain president’s widow, Martine Moïse, asked for the judge to voluntarily remove himself from the case because of what they described as his “close ties with certain influential members of the INITE political party.”

One of those members is Paul Denis, a former justice minister. He had named Voltaire as a substitute prosecutor in the Port-de-Paix district as part of his previous job. Denis was initially named by police in the early days of their investigation as one of the political leaders who had met with Sanon before the president’s assassination. Denis was subsequently barred from leaving Haiti.

In an interview shortly after the killing, Denis told the Herald that he wasn’t involved with Sanon or any plot to overthrow or kill Moïse. The travel ban was eventually removed by another judge investigating the slaying.

In addition to Voltaire’s ongoing questioning of suspects, the Central Directorate of the Judicial Police is also digging deeper into how the assassination plot was funded. It is focusing on possible links to the use of government funds to pay the 22 Colombian commandos suspected of carrying out the deadly assault, according to sources in Haiti familiar with that probe. The police unit is also seeking to arrest more than a dozen officers who remain on the lam and are suspected of playing a role in the killing.

READ MORE: How a Miami plot to oust a president led to a murder in Haiti

The three newly charged Haitian-American defendants and the lone Colombian joined forces in the early part of 2021 to carry out the coup to replace Moïse, according to authorities in both Haiti and the United States. Sanon, who aspired to be Haiti’s president and held meetings in South Florida and in his volatile nation with other political leaders, was to replace him. To that end, Sanon met with various plotters to discuss how to depose and succeed Moïse, Haitian authorities have said.

Sanon, Solages and Vincent have all been charged by U.S. authorities with “providing material support or resources” between June 2021 and July 7, 2021, to carry out a “conspiracy to kill or kidnap” the president. The charges carry up to life in prison.

U.S. authorities, in separate criminal complaints charging other suspects, have said a South Florida trip by Solages days before Moïse’s killing is key to justifying the United States’ jurisdictional right to investigate. During that trip, they said, Solages provided a written request to the owner of the security firm responsible for paying the Colombians, asking for assistance. That request is considered a critical development in the U.S. investigation, which speaks of a “co-conspirator #1.”

According to a jailed associate, “co-conspirator #1“ was “one of the leaders of the operation.” The Herald confirmed that, while not publicly identified, this person is Solages. He traveled from Port-au-Prince to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on June 28, 2021, and returned to Haiti on July 1, 2021, six days before the assassination.

Solages, who turned himself in to police after the attack, had run a small charity benefiting his native city of Jacmel in Haiti’s southeast.He introduced Sanon to the Doral-based security firm, CTU, and its owner, Intriago, a Venezuelan émigré. Intriago’s business partner was Arcángel Pretel Ortiz. He ran a sister company, CTU Federal Academy, which allegedly recruited the Colombian suspects via a WhatsApp group.

Pretel, several sources told the Herald, was an active FBI informant at the time of the assassination. Like Intriago, he has not been arrested. Both are suspected of recruiting and supplying the ex-Colombian soldiers to protect Sanon as part of the alleged coup plot.

Solages said his role was simply as a translator but admitted to the Herald that he was the person who falsely yelled “DEA!” through a bullhorn outside Moïse’s house when the attack was executed. Solages’ colleague, Joseph Vincent, 57, also claimed to be a translator for the former Colombian soldiers accused of killing Moïse.

Phone records obtained by the Herald show that Vincent, 57, was in touch with several main suspects leading up to the assassination. After the killing, he phoned his old DEA handler and was then put in touch with the agency’s country director, who convinced him to turn himself in. Despite the phone call to the DEA, U.S. officials said Vincent was no longer involved with the agency.

In all, 18 Colombians were arrested in Haiti and three others were killed in the aftermath of the president’s slaying. Another Colombian, Mario Antonio Palacios Palacios, known as “Floro,” escaped to Jamaica but was later stopped in Panama during a layover on his way to being extradited to Colombia. During the Panamanian stop, he was informed that there was a U.S. warrant for his arrest and he agreed to fly to Miami, U.S authorities said.

The Colombian commando leader, Rivera, known as “Col. Mike,” was inside the president’s home when the commandos ambushed Moïse, and he showed a digital image of his corpse to Solages and Vincent just after the murder. The two claimed to be outside the house at the time.

The transfer of the Haitian-American and Colombian defendants to Miami is the latest development in the high-profile federal conspiracy case that has dragged on for months because of logistical challenges in Haiti and political concerns in Washington, D.C.

Though these four have now been brought to Miami, it doesn’t mean others will not, sources say. Among the other jailed suspects in Haiti who are of interest to federal authorities in Miami is Jean Laguel Civil, the former Haiti National Police divisional commissioner. Civil, reportedly a Haitian American, was in charge of coordinating Moïse’s security detail. He is accused by his own department of bribing guards not to show up to work the day of the attack or to stand down, while passing out $80,000 among 80 palace guards. He’s one of the people a desperate Moïse frantically phoned in vain for help. In an interview prior to his arrest, Civil told the Herald he’s innocent.

Until now, only three defendants, who had fled to Jamaica and the Dominican Republic after the president’s slaying, faced charges in Miami. They are Palacios, a former Colombian soldier who was recruited along with many other former commandos from his country; Rodolphe Jaar, a once-convicted cocaine trafficker who assisted the DEA as an informant but later allegedly joined the deadly plot targeting Moïse; and ex-Haitian Senator John Joël Joseph, who is accused of providing logistical support for the plotters.

Palacios was reputedly a member of the Delta team, the core unit that entered the president’s bedroom, where Moïse was riddled with 12 bullets. His wife, Martine, was also shot but survived. Their two children were unharmed.

After fleeing to Jamaica, Palacios told FBI agents he was informed just hours before the attack that the plan had changed from arresting and kidnapping Moïse to killing him, according to federal court records. Jailed in Miami, he denied entering Moïse’s bedroom or knowing who shot him. He said only a few were aware of the plot turning from kidnapping Moïse to killing him.

Of late, Palacios and his lawyers have been fighting to keep his confession, given to the FBI in Jamaica, from being used by federal prosecutors against him. In court papers, they argue that FBI agents did not properly advise Palacios of his Miranda rights before he gave his statement.

Jaar, the former drug trafficker, owned a poultry business in Haiti. He attended meetings in Port-au-Prince with several alleged plotters, later admitting to U.S. investigators that he provided arms and housing prior to the assault on Moïse. He also admitted that he provided plotters with guidance after the slaying. He fled to the Dominican Republic before his arrest.

Joseph, who also goes by the name Joseph Joël John, is a well-known Haitian politician. He is alleged to be a central figure in the assassination. According to Haitian police, two weeks before the murder, Joseph went to rent five vehicles associated with the mission. He was joined by a powerful gang leader Vitelhomme Innocent, and a former rebel leader known as “the Torturer,” Miradieu Faustin.

Faustin is currently in Haitian police custody following his arrest, a major breakthrough in the country’s stagnant investigation. Innocent remains free and is wanted by the FBI on unrelated kidnapping charges.

Joseph also attended meetings in South Florida and Haiti with key suspects, rented vehicles for the Colombian commandos and tried to acquire weapons for them, according to court records. He’s believed to have been an interlocutor between the various groups. On the night of the killing, he was in communication with several main suspects.

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