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Former Haiti leader Guy Philippe pleads guilty to money laundering in drug case

April 25, 2017  |  Posted by: Francesca Falzarano
Former Haiti leader Guy Philippe pleads guilty to money laundering in drug case

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Former Haiti revolution leader and elected senator Guy Philippe pleaded guilty to a U.S. drug money-laundering charge in Miami Federal Court on Monday under a deal that could see him avoid a potential life sentence for cocaine trafficking.

The plea agreement recommends a nine-year prison sentence for Guy Philippe and a dismissal of the drug trafficking charge.

He is also facing a $1.5 million penalty when he is sentenced on July 5th, The Associated Press reported.

“You understand I am under no obligation to impose that sentence?” U.S. District Judge Cecilia M. Altonaga asked, while also adding that the maximum sentence is 20 years.

“Yes, your honor,” Philippe responded.

The 49-year-old headed a Haitian uprising back in 2004 that ousted then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and was indicted in 2005 along with several others on drug charges in the U.S.

He managed to evade capture for over a decade, including at least ten efforts to arrest him in Haiti that involved a military operation and a foot pursuit through the country.

Guy Philippe was arrested on drug trafficking and money laundering charges back in January

Guy Philippe was elected to the Senate in Haiti in November but was apprehended in January while giving an interview in the capital of Port-au-Prince and was immediately transferred to the U.S.

Altonaga denied his claim of immunity as an elected Haitian official. The judge added that even if immunity applied, Philippe was not yet officially sworn into office.

He confessed in court on Monday that, as a high-ranking Haitian commander in Cap-Haitien, he accepted between $1.5 million and $3.5 million from smugglers between 1999 and 2003.

Justice Department prosecutors allege that Philippe and other officers accepted the cash in exchange for safe passage for cocaine loads from Colombia and other countries that went through Haiti on their way to Miami and other destinations in the U.S.

In this March 1, 2004, photo shows Haitian rebel leader, Guy Philippe, who has since pleaded guilty to money laundering charges

“Guy Philippe cast aside the duty to protect and serve the people of Haiti,” Acting U.S. Attorney Benjamin Greenberg for Florida’s Souther District stated. “Instead, he abused his authority as a high-ranking Haitian National Police officer to safeguard drug shipments and launder trafficking proceeds.”

Philippe’s lawyer Zeljka Bozanic said taking the life sentence off the table was the key to the plea deal, especially considering there are few witnesses and records available to create a credible defense.

“We’re happy that’s the result,” she stated. “Hopefully he will still be a relatively young person walking out.”

About $376,000 of the illicit funds were wired to a Miami bank account from Haiti and Ecuador and used by Philippe to buy a house in the Fort Lauderdale area.

There was a string of protests in Haiti when Philippe was apprehended, with some supporters calling it an illegal kidnapping. Several dozen individuals protested outside the Miami courthouse at one of his earlier hearings, but there was no support of this nature shown on Monday.

“It is important that Philippe accepts responsibility for his criminal offenses against the United States and Haiti,” said Adolphus Wright, chief of the DEA;s Miami office.

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