First guilty plea in assassination of Haiti’s president. Drug dealer admits backing plot

Dieu Nalio Chery/AP

A convicted Haitian drug trafficker pleaded guilty Friday to providing money to pay for weapons, food and lodging for Colombian commandos and others suspected of executing the fatal shooting of Haiti’s president, marking the first guilty plea in the murder conspiracy case in Miami federal court.

Rodolphe Jaar, 50, who cooperated with U.S. investigators in a major cocaine-smuggling probe a decade ago, is hoping that same strategy might help him avoid a potential life sentence for providing “material support” in the conspiracy to kidnap and kill Haitian President Jovenel Moïse on July 7, 2021. The deadly plot was coordinated among various suspects in South Florida, Haiti and Colombia, including Jaar and 10 others who have been charged by indictment in Miami.

Federal prosecutor Monica Castro said Jaar not only supplied money for the assassination plan, but that he also “provided funding to bribe certain Haitian officials who were responsible for providing security to President Moïse so that Jaar’s co-conspirators would be able to obtain access to [him] during the operation” at his residence outside Port-au-Prince in the middle of the night.

At Friday’s hearing, U.S. District Judge Jose Martinez pointedly asked Jaar about the prosecutor’s reading of a factual statement that accompanied his plea agreement: “Is it true?”

Jaar’s reply: “Yes, your honor.”

Jaar then pleaded guilty to three counts of conspiring to provide material support, providing material support and conspiring to kidnap and kill Haiti’s president — each of which carries a potential life sentence. Under his plea agreement, Jaar faces between 30 years and life at his sentencing scheduled for June 2.

But, because he was the first to accept responsibility for his role in the assassination conspiracy and is cooperating with federal authorities, Jaar could receive less than 30 years.

So far, he has provided critical information that has helped agents with the FBI and Homeland Security Investigations build a stronger conspiracy case against the 10 other Haitian, Colombian and South Florida suspects now in federal custody in the assassination of Haiti’s president. The remaining defendants are scheduled for trial on conspiracy or smuggling charges in May.

Jaar, who had operated a poultry business in Haiti, was alleged to be raising funds prior to the assassination, according to Haitians familiar with the president’s killing. Both a Haitian and Chilean citizen, Jaar was the second suspect to be arrested in the U.S. probe of Moïse’s assassination. He agreed to be flown to Miami in January 2022 after his arrest in the Dominican Republic.

Jaar admitted meeting with a key Haitian-American co-conspirator and to helping him and others carry out Moïse’s assassination, according to the factual statement filed with his plea agreement signed by him, defense attorney Frank Schwartz and prosecutors Andrea Goldbarg and Castro.

During an interview in December while in hiding in Port-au-Prince and weeks before his arrest, Jaar admitted to U.S. investigators that “he provided firearms and ammunition to the Colombians to support the assassination operation,” according to an FBI criminal complaint and affidavit.

“He stated that the operation changed from an arrest ... [to remove Moïse from office] to an assassination operation after the initial plan to ‘capture’ the Haitian president at the [Port-au-Prince] airport and take him away by plane did not go forward,” the affidavit says.

The Haitian businessman not only provided weapons to the Colombian commandos to carry out the mission targeting Moïse, but also met with an unnamed collaborator, identified in the affidavit as “co-conspirator #1,” one of three Haitian Americans formerly jailed in Haiti and now in federal custody in Miami.

The co-conspirator is James Solages, who was flown from Haiti to Miami in late January.

The Miami Herald previously reported that Solages and other co-conspirators said they were at Jaar’s home before the attack; the paper obtained phone records showing that several main suspects had gathered at a residence in the Thomassin area of the capital.

Castro, the prosecutor, said at Friday’s court hearing that a critical meeting was held “at a property controlled by Jaar” on July 6, 2021, during which they discussed launching the assassination plan. According to the prosecutor, Solages told Jaar and other co-conspirators that the operation’s goal was to kill Haiti’s president.

Solages claims he was a translator and has pleaded not guilty in Miami federal court, but he was at the president’s home when Moïse was killed and shouted that the assault was a “DEA operation.”

According to witness statements, Jaar also collaborated with Solages and others in a plot to have Moïse arrested in mid-June of 2021 at the Port-au-Prince airport upon his return from an official visit to Turkey.

But after that initial plot failed, “co-conspirator #1” [Solages] traveled from Haiti to Miami on June 28, 2021, and “provided other individuals” with a request for assistance in targeting Haiti’s president, the affidavit says. Solages allegedly shared that information with a Miami-area security firm, Counter Terrorist Unit Security (CTU), whose owner, Antonio Intriago, was arrested last month. Through his lawyers, Intriago says he had no knowledge of the assassination plan and has pleaded not guilty.

“According to interviews of several co-conspirators in Haitian custody, by this point certain co-conspirators had knowledge of, or at least believed, that the plan was to assassinate rather than kidnap President Moïse,” the FBI affidavit says. On July 1, “co-conspirator #1 [Solages] flew from Florida to Haiti to participate in the operation.”

On July 7, a group of Colombian commandos, Haiti police working security and others stormed the president’s hillside compound in Pétionville and entered his home with the “intent and purpose of killing” Moïse, the affidavit says. Later that day, Jaar spoke with “co-conspirator #1” and others to assist [Solages] and the Colombians, “who were hiding and feared that they would be captured and/or killed by Haitian authorities.”

The federal investigation took a dramatic turn last month when U.S. agents arrested four suspects in South Florida on charges of playing central roles in the plot to kill Moïse, focusing on the weapons, ballistic vests and financing that authorities say fueled the deadly scheme.

The arrests came more than a year and a half after U.S. authorities launched their investigation. Despite significant progress of late, it’s still unclear who was the ultimate mastermind of the assassination plot targeting Moïse.

“While the murder of President Moïse occurred in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, most of the planning, funding and direction of the plot to violently overthrow the president occurred right here in the United States in the Southern District of Florida, beginning in early 2021,” United States Attorney Markenzy Lapointe said at a news conference in mid-February.

Three of the defendants — Intriago, owner of Doral-based Counter Terrorist Unit Security, or CTU; Arcángel Pretel Ortiz, operator of the affiliate CTU Federal Academy LLC; and Walter Veintemilla, head of Miramar-based Worldwide Capital Lending Group — are charged with supporting a conspiracy to kidnap and kill the president of Haiti. All three pleaded not guilty, but they were denied bail before trial.

The fourth defendant, Frederick Bergmann Jr., was described as being part of the financing arm of the operation. He is charged with conspiring to smuggle ballistic vests to former Colombian soldiers who allegedly carried out the fatal shooting of Moïse and seriously wounded the president’s wife, Martine Moïse. He’s also charged with failing to file valid export paperwork when the 20 smuggled vests, which are bulletproof, were shipped on June 10, 2021, from Miami to Port-au-Prince before the assassination. The shipment was marked “medical x-ray vests and school supplies.”

Bergmann also pleaded not guilty. But he was granted bail before trial and was released.

Also charged with the same smuggling offense: Christian Emmanuel Sanon, 64, a Haiti doctor and pastor who split his time between the United States and his Caribbean homeland. Authorities said it was his goal to replace Moïse as president, but the co-conspirators abandoned him as a potential successor in June 2021, before the assassination.

Meanwhile, Haitian authorities have made more than 40 arrests in their parallel case, including Moise’s security coordinator, Jean Laguel Civil. They claim he paid out $80,000 in bribes to police to stand down or not show up to work on the day of the deadly attack.

So far, no one has been officially charged in Haiti’s investigation, which is now being supervised by the fifth investigative judge.

Miami Herald Caribbean correspondent Jacqueline Charles contributed to this story.