Haiti

Why were former members of the U.S. military driving around Haiti heavily armed?

Three are former U.S. military and a fourth once worked as a federal contractor for the U.S. government.

But what may have brought them to Haiti and put them together on a Port-au-Prince street remained a mystery Tuesday as Haitian police continued their investigation into the arrest of eight heavily armed men, including five Americans.

Christopher Michael Osman, Kent Leland Kroeker and Christopher Mark McKinley are all veterans, and are among the five Americans police arrested on Sunday afternoon, about a block from the country’s central bank in downtown Port-au-Prince. Riding in two vehicles, a Toyota Prado and Ford Pickup, without license plates, they were stopped at a police checkpoint and questioned.

Inside their vehicles: six automatic rifles, six pistols, two professional drones and three satellite phones, police told the Miami Herald.

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On Tuesday, another stunning revelation: A letter from a local car dealership to the prime minister revealed that one of the vehicles, the Ford, was purchased by a former government official and sent to the care of Fritz Jean-Louis, an adviser of President Jovenel Moïse. Jean-Louis has since fled the country, police said.

Police found license plates inside the vehicles, and at least one was registered to Jean-Louis.

“If I was in the place of [the judicial police] I would arrest Fritz Jean-Louis,” said Pierre Esperance, a human rights activist who published the names of the men in a report commending the Haiti National Police for the arrest and its professionalism.

Jean-Louis, Esperance said, pulled up to the checkpoint during the police questioning and was let go by police who were more concerned about the five Americans, two Serbians and a Haitian national they had just stopped. Jean-Louis was also one of the first to float the idea that “the men were on a mission in Haiti to evaluate the” central bank.

That explanation has been debunked by several Haitian authorities including the head of the bank, and the country’s prime minister Jean Henry Céant, who oversees the police.

A Miami Herald public records check showed that two of the Americans have connections to the San Diego, California, area and previously served in the military.

One of the veterans, Kroeker, 52, runs an off-road engineering company. His company, KORE Racing, is decribed as being made up of “Military, Police, Professional Mechanics, Entrepreneurs and the best volunteers that America has to offer.”

On a Red Bull competition site, Kroeker described himself as a 20-year Marine veteran.

Meanwhile, McKinley, 49, has had a few brushes with law enforcement in Ohio, and appears to have once filed bankruptcy, according to public records. He also holds a professional license as a physician’s assistant. Records also list a Christopher McKinley who also goes by the last name Heben, or Christopher Heben McKinley. A story in an Ohio paper on a Christopher Heben described him as decorated veteran and former Navy SEAL.

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Osman, 44, is also a former Navy Seal but with a checkered past, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. In 2017, he was convicted and sentenced in a road-rage attack. A former Marine, he pleaded guilty in Superior Court in Chula Vista to a sole count of misdemeanor assault in the beating of a man. He is described in a study as one of the first elite commandos to fight in Afghanistan following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks., according to the Union-Tribune.

Public records show that Osman had a tactical assault gear company. Among the identification Haitian police have in their possession is Osman’s Veterans Administration card.

The other two Americans who were arrested are Dustin Porte, 42, and Talon Ray Burton, 52.

Burton is a director of a security company, Hawkstorm Global Ltd., and holds both a firearms and a detective license.

Porte’s company, Patriot Group Services, once received a sub-contract for $16,000 with the Department of Homeland Security. The company was established in 2014 and is described as an electrical contractor.

The three other men who were arrested and remain in police custody are Vlade Jankvic, 41, Danilo Bajagic, 37, and Michael Estera, 39, a Haitian national who goes by the name of Clifford. Police are pursuing a lead as to whether Estera may have been deported from the United States. Police previously said there was a Russian, but on Tuesday they said both Bajagic and Jankvic are Serbian.

Esperance, the human rights activist, said his own investigation into the matter has revealed that following the group’s arrest presidential advisers and the justice minister tried to intervene and get the men released without conditions. Police, however, resisted and continue to detain the men.

Port-au-Prince Chief Prosecutor Paul Eronce Villard on Tuesday refuted claims that the justice ministry tried to secure the men’s release. He said while he did visit the the police station after the men’s arrest on Sunday afternoon, he did not go there to free them. Villard said the men who are facing a number of charges including the possession of illegal weapons are scheduled to appear in court soon.

“What we can say is whatever their mission was that they came to do in Haiti, it’s certain they came on the orders of the National Palace,” Esperance said. “It’s the National Palace that put the pressure on the police to free them without conditions.

“The responsibility of the judicial police now is that it has to analyze all of the documents, guns and equipment and ... question them to know what is their real mission in Haiti.”

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