Haiti

Haiti’s Guy Philippe, convicted of money laundering, has lost a bid for freedom

Guy Philippe, left, one of the rebel leaders of the Resistance Front, was in Gonaives after an armed revolt in 2002. Philippe was arrested in 2017 by DEA agents and Haiti’s anti-drug brigade outside of a Port-au-Prince radio station on drug-trafficking charges in the United States.
Guy Philippe, left, one of the rebel leaders of the Resistance Front, was in Gonaives after an armed revolt in 2002. Philippe was arrested in 2017 by DEA agents and Haiti’s anti-drug brigade outside of a Port-au-Prince radio station on drug-trafficking charges in the United States. Miami Herald File Photo

Guy Philippe won’t be getting out of the U.S. prison system anytime soon.

The convicted money launderer and elected Haitian senator — who was also at various times a law student, a police commander, a coup leader and a fugitive in an international drug trafficking case — has lost another bid for freedom in a Miami federal court.

A federal judge last week dismissed Philippe’s appeal of his nine-year sentence, concluding his claims that his defense attorneys were “ineffective” and “working for both sides” weren’t credible.

Philippe pleaded guilty to a money laundering conspiracy in April 2017 and was sentenced to nine years in prison that June.

U.S. District Judge Cecilia Altonaga found that Philippe, who said he didn’t need a Creole interpreter in court and agreed to speak in English, understood the proceedings and the potential consequences while he spoke with his defense attorneys before the plea. Philippe, 50, agreed to the plea as a way to avoid a potential life sentence in a major narcotics case. As part of the agreement with the U.S. attorney’s office, Philippe also agreed not to appeal his conviction and sentencing.

Philippe’s motion to vacate his guilty plea and sentence was based on his argument that he hadn’t received an effective defense from his lawyers.

Former Haiti coup leader Guy Philippe, who has been wanted for more than a decade on drug charges in the United States, was arrested Thursday in Haiti and escorted to Miami by U.S. federal agents.

The original indictment, which had been filed in Miami in 2005 but remained in limbo until his arrest in Haiti two years ago, accused him and others in the Haiti National Police of accepting bribes from cocaine traffickers in exchange for protecting their shipments from Colombia to Haiti to the United States.

In her ruling, Altonaga said she questioned the “college-educated” Philippe about the plea deal in court and that she “received his confirmation he was satisfied with the representation his counsel had provided him.” Altonaga based her decision on a recommendation by Magistrate Judge Patrick White, who had previously conducted a full hearing on Philippe’s motion.

While Philippe, unsuccessfully argued that his defense attorneys provided “ineffective assistance of counsel,” he is not giving up his fight for freedom. His lawyer told the Miami Herald Friday that he will challenge Altonaga’s ruling with the federal appeals court in Atlanta.

“I spoke with Guy this morning and he said he does want to proceed in that fashion,” lawyer Philip Pitzer said.

Despite his international arrest warrant, Philippe has for years fashioned himself as a nationalist whose rights were violated when he was put on a plane to Miami following his Jan. 5, 2017, arrest outside a Port-au-Prince radio station. He lobbied Haitian senators from behind bars, and they passed a resolution condemning the arrest. Before he pleaded guilty, he also professed his innocence in a three-minute recording that went viral on the WhatsApp messaging service.

“They have absolutely no proof that I am involved in drugs,” Philippe, proclaimed in Creole from his jail cell.

Philippe became well-known in Haiti after he led a bloody 2004 coup against then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The following year in November 2005, he was secretly indicted in the U.S. on drug-trafficking and money-laundering charges. The next year, he ran unsuccessfully for president even while U.S. authorities were trying to capture him.

Last year, in another lawsuit, Philippe said his civil rights were violated by a slew of U.S. officials and demanded $100 million in compensation while also insisting that his conviction should be overturned. In a 22-page handwritten pleading, he listed former U.S. ambassadors to Haiti, federal prosecutors and unnamed agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration involved in his case. Another Miami federal judge dismissed the suit.

Philippe, who sometimes called in to local Haiti radio stations to remain politically relevant even while in hiding from U.S. authorities, led the Consortium political party before his arrest. The party is among several expected to back candidates in Haiti’s legislative election this fall.

Guy Philippe's defense attorneys discuss the reason the Haitian senator and former police commander pled guilty on April 24, 2017, in Miami federal court to a drug-related money-laundering charge that could send him to prison for at least nine years.



One of Philippe’s defense attorneys, Zeljka Bozanic, declined to comment Friday about Altonaga’s ruling. Co-counsel Alan Ross died last year.

In her ruling, the judge noted that Philippe wrote a letter to Bozanic in January 2018 — one month before he accused her of being ineffective — suggesting that he had no qualms about her.

Philippe’s nine-year sentence — less than half the maximum 20-year sentence possible for his money-laundering conviction — was the result of a deal with federal prosecutor Lynn Kirkpatrick after Altonaga refused to dismiss the case based on Philippe’s claim of immunity as a senator-elect in Haiti.

The judge also chastised the federal government for not trying harder to arrest Philippe in the years after his 2005 indictment. He was arrested by Haiti National Police and turned over to the Drug Enforcement Administration in early January 2017, days before his swearing-in.

The sentencing brought to a conclusion a federal investigation into drug trafficking, money laundering and corruption at the highest levels of Haiti’s government that had begun more than a decade earlier when the island became a notorious hub for shipping South American cocaine into the United States.

Jacqueline Charles has reported on Haiti and the English-speaking Caribbean for the Miami Herald for over a decade. A Pulitzer Prize finalist for her coverage of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, she was awarded a 2018 Maria Moors Cabot Prize — the most prestigious award for coverage of the Americas.


Jay Weaver writes about bad guys who specialize in con jobs, rip-offs and squirreling away millions. Since joining the Miami Herald in 1999, he’s covered the federal courts nonstop, from Elian’s custody battle to A-Rod’s steroid use. He was on the Herald team that won the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news in 2001. He and three Herald colleagues were nominated as a Pulitzer Prize finalist for explanatory reporting in 2019.


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