An Orlando man facing up to 20 years in prison for illegally shipping weapons to Haiti was acquitted of two of the most serious charges by federal jurors in Fort Lauderdale on Friday, but Jimy Joseph could still spend up to 10 years in jail after being found guilty of two lesser crimes in connection with the shipment.
Joseph and his older brother, Junior, who owned a gun shop in Orlando, were both indicted by a federal grand jury for conspiracy to ship 30,000 rounds of ammunition and 166 semi-automatic shotguns and pistols to Haiti in August 2016 in the back of a Mitsubishi cargo truck from the port of West Palm Beach. They each faced five criminal counts, including lying to federal authorities about the ownership of one of the guns, a 9mm Glock 17 that went missing after the truck arrived aboard a Monarch Shipping Lines freighter.
Last month, a jury found Junior Joseph guilty on all five counts. But in Jimy Joseph’s case, the verdict was mixed.
Jurors rejected the government’s claims that Jimy Joseph had asked a cousin to lie about the Glock’s ownership, that he conspired with his brother to ship the weapons and that he did ship them. The last two acts carry a penalty of up to 20 years in prison per count, along with a $250,000 fine.
Jurors, however, did conclude over their five days of deliberations — longer than the actual trial — that Jimy Joseph was guilty of a general conspiracy to break the laws of the United States, and of exporting prohibited items. The conspiracy count carries a penalty of five years, while exporting the prohibited items carries a penalty of 10 years.
Unsure what to make of the inconsistent verdict, defense attorney Richard Della Fera said he plans to file an appeal “based on what I consider to be a lack of sufficient evidence.”
Still, he added: “We’re grateful the jury acquitted him of the most serious charges.”
The case came to light when customs agents in Haiti found the arsenal of single- and double-barreled 12-gauge shotguns, AR-15-type rifles and the boxes for two missing 9mm Glock 17 pistols in the truck after it arrived in the port of St. Marc, a coastal city north of Port-au-Prince. Suspicions were raised when an accomplice of Jimy Joseph tried but failed to get the truck out of customs without an inspection.
During the Fort Lauderdale trial, prosecutors argued that Jimy Joseph’s mother had sold her Orlando home for more than $90,000 so the brothers could purchase the guns, which sell for three and four times their value in Haiti.
Prosecutors also produced copies of Whatsapp messages Junior Joseph sent to Haitian Senator Herve Fourcand and to another man, a close associate of then-Haiti police chief Godson Orélus, seeking help in getting the truck out, inspection-free. Junior Joseph later forwarded Fourcand’s phone number and that of the associate, Edouard “Dollar” Monplaisir, to Jimy, who did not respond.
A similar investigation in Haiti by an investigative judge has led to indictments of the Joseph brothers there as well as indictments of several other alleged co-conspirators including Orélus, the ex-police chief.
Arrested in St. Marc in October on weapons trafficking charges in connection with the Joseph case, Orélus was freed Tuesday but remains under indictment. He has professed his innocence.
In the U.S. trials, each of the Joseph brothers accused the other of wrongdoing but prosecutors said each played a role.
“Junior is the one administering... Jimy is the one on the ground,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Rolando Garcia said in his closing. “Junior Joseph is not the one loading up the truck. Junior Joseph is not the one driving to the port of Palm Beach. Junior Joseph is not the one flying to Haiti to take possession. That’s Jimy Joseph. That’s his role in the conspiracy.”
Della Fera, however, pushed to raise doubts.
In closing arguments, he told jurors that they needed to examine the evidence to determine whether Jimy Joseph willfully violated federal firearms export laws because he knew that the firearms were in the back of the truck.
Della Fera also asked jurors to consider whether Jimy Johnson knew there was no export license for the weapons.
“Did he have specific knowledge?” Della Fera asked. “You have to decide the evidence against Jimy Joseph separate from Junior.”
At one point during the deliberations, jurors asked U.S. District Judge William P. Dimitrouleas whether they could get a transcript of a portion of the testimony, and if they could change their foreman.
“I’ve been a judge for 30 years and I’ve never heard anyone ask if they can change a foreman,” said Dimitrouleas, who instructed jurors to rely on their memories for the evidence.
The case highlights Haiti’s illegal arms trafficking problem, but it also shows the difficulty Haitian officials face in prosecuting illegal weapons cases.
Last week five Americans and two Serbians who reside in the United States were taken out of Haiti with the assistance of the State Department after Haitian police arrested them and a Haitian national at a police checkpoint in downtown Port-au-Prince. The men were found with an arsenal of illegal weapons and were driving vehicles without license plates.
U.S. authorities’ decision to later free the men without charges after their arrival in Miami sparked outrage in Haiti, where the Senate recently grilled the current police chief on the release. Fifteen members of the Lower Chamber of Deputies also are requesting that the minister of justice appear before them to explain his letter authorizing the men’s release from Haitian custody.