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4 arrested in South Florida in connection with Haitian president’s assassination

Haitian President Jovenel Moise in a 2018 file photo. (Riccardo Savi/Concordia Summit/Getty Images/TNS)

More than a year and a half after launching their investigation, U.S. federal agents arrested four suspects in South Florida Tuesday on charges of playing key roles in a plot to kill Haiti’s president, Jovenel Moïse, who was shot to death in his home by an alleged team of Colombian commandos as his presidential guards stood down.

The local arrests of the owner of a Miami-area security firm, his business partner, a financier and an exporter mark a turning point in the probe that is now focused on the weapons, ballistic vests and financing that authorities say fueled the deadly plot executed on July 7, 2021.

Three of the new defendants — Antonio “Tony” 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 or kill the president of Haiti.

The fourth defendant, Frederick Bergmann, is charged with conspiring to smuggle ballistic vests for 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 20 smuggled ballistic 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.”

The joint probe by the FBI and Homeland Security Investigations initially targeted suspects apprehended in Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and Haiti, several of whom have been relocated to Miami to face trial. Now, it has zeroed in on the South Florida network that planned a violent takeover of Haiti’s presidency in the months leading up to the assassination, authorities said. That connection to South Florida enabled the U.S. attorney’s office to file conspiracy charges here in the killing of a foreign leader.

According to FBI criminal complaints, Intriago, Ortiz and Veintemilla played distinct roles in an initial plan aiming to arrest and kidnap Haiti’s president after Moïse returned from a state visit to Turkey in June 2021, and then in a final plot to kill him weeks later on July 7 inside his hillside home in the suburbs of metropolitan Port-au-Prince.

As early as April, U.S. investigators said, meetings were held in the Miami and Fort Lauderdale area to discuss financing, logistics and security in the initial plan to remove Moïse from power and replace him with a 64-year-old Haitian-American pastor and doctor, Christian Emmanuel Sanon.

Veintemilla, an Ecuador native who lives in Weston, raised $172,000 from investors to make a private loan to Sanon in his quest to become Haiti’s next president. The financier would be repaid with future Haitian assets in a “peaceful transition of power,” Veintemilla’s lawyer previously told the Miami Herald.

Sanon hired Intriago’s company, CTU Security, and then Intriago and Ortiz recruited Colombians with military experience from a closed WhatsApp group of former soldiers to provide security for Sanon, sources told the Miami Herald. They then supplied them with rifles, ammunition and ballistic vests, according to the complaints unsealed Tuesday.

Before his arrest, Intriago, a Venezuelan émigré, had maintained through his defense attorneys that he provided only bodyguard services for Sanon through CTU Security as part of Sanon’s presidential aspirations and knew nothing about a plot to kill Moïse.

The Herald has been unable to contact a lawyer for Ortiz, who was an active FBI informant at the time of the president’s assassination, several sources told the newspaper. A Colombian national, he once testified in a cartel case for the agency.

A Haitian American who allegedly helped coordinate logistics behind the scenes was James Solages, who quit his job at a nursing home in Palm Beach County to go work for CTU’s security firm. It was Solages who introduced Intriago to Sanon.

At the end of January, Solages and Sanon were transferred from Haitian custody to U.S. authorities along with two other suspects: Joseph Vincent, a former Drug Enforcement Administration confidential informant who lived in South Florida, and Germán Rivera Garcia, a retired Colombian colonel who was one of the alleged leaders of the deadly attack, according to criminal complaints.

Solages, Vincent and Rivera are charged with conspiring to kidnap or kill Haiti’s president, while Sanon is charged with conspiring to smuggle the ballistic vests from Miami to Port-au-Prince for the Colombian commandos. The shipment lacked the required export license from the U.S. Department of Commerce and the required export information, a complaint charging Sanon said.

All four defendants have their arraignments on Wednesday.

The other defendants charged in the assassination case and currently in a federal detention lockup in Miami are Mario Antonio Palacios Palacios, an ex-Colombian soldier; Rodolphe Jaar, a convicted drug trafficker who once cooperated with the U.S. government; and John Joël Joseph, a former Haitian senator. They were arrested last year after fleeing Haiti and charged with conspiring to kidnap or kill Haiti’s president, pleaded not guilty and are scheduled for trial in late March.

Federal agents with the FBI and Homeland Security Investigations say that starting in April 2021, Solages, Sanon and others met in South Florida to discuss “regime change” in Haiti and their support for Sanon as the president’s replacement. They compiled a list of equipment and weapons for that effort, and Solages shared it with Sanon. The list included rifles, machine guns, tear gas, grenades, ammunition, bulletproof vests, and other weapons and equipment.

That June a group of about 20 Colombian nationals with military training were recruited to assist in the “operation,” according to the criminal complaint charging Solages, Vincent and Rivera. One of the lead Colombian nationals in charge of the group was Rivera. The other, Duberney Capador Girlado, was killed along with two other former soldiers by Haitian police after the killing.

According to the complaint, Sanon was no longer seen as a “viable” replacement for Moïse and a former Supreme Court justice, Windelle Coq Thélot, entered the picture as a stronger candidate for the presidency. However, over the next month, the goal of ousting Moïse in Haiti escalated from a kidnapping scheme to an assassination plot.

Moïse, who returned to Haiti from an official overseas trip to Turkey with his wife and others on June 19, 2021, was unaware of the plan to capture him and spirit him away upon his arrival. It was aborted when the getaway plane never arrived.

Then, on June 28, Solages traveled from Haiti to South Florida carrying a letter dated June 22, 2021. It requested assistance from CTU’s Intriago, and promised “immunity, protection and security.”

The letter was signed by Thélot, who denied its authenticity in a Herald interview.

According to multiple witness interviews and cell phone records obtained by the Herald, on July 6, 2021, several conspirators (including Solages, Vincent and Rivera) met prior to the assassination at a house not far from Moïse’s residence. “Firearms and equipment were distributed, and Solages falsely told those gathered that it was a ‘CIA Operation,’ and, in substance, said that the mission was to kill President Moïse,” the complaint said.

Hours later, “several conspirators drove in a convoy to President Moïse’s residence,” with Solages, Vincent and Rivera traveling in the same vehicle, the complaint said.

“Once they arrived outside President Moïse’s residence, Solages announced that they were engaged in a ‘DEA Operation’ to ensure compliance from President Moïse’s security and other civilians,” the complaint said. “A subset of Colombian conspirators was assigned to find the President and assassinate him, and in fact the President was killed.”

After they were brought into custody in Haiti, Solages told FBI agents that by mid-June, he knew the plan was to kill Haiti’s president, according to the complaint. Vincent told agents that the initial plan was to remove Moïse from office or eliminate him completely. But the idea of killing him became acceptable to the group a few days before the assassination. Rivera also told agents that the assassination was the ultimate object and that the president’s arrest was a “pretense,” the complaint said.

Moïse was riddled with 12 bullets allegedly fired by the Colombian commandos. His wife was wounded during the assault at the home. Their children were not injured.

Parallel U.S. and Haitian investigations into the assassination have unfolded during a period of unprecedented gang violence and political upheaval in Haiti. More than 40 people, including 18 Colombian nationals and three Haitian Americans with ties to South Florida, were arrested in Haiti in connection with the assassination. So far, no one has been formally charged in Haiti.

The Haitian government’s probe is currently on its fifth investigative judge and has regained a bit of momentum after being stalled due to the turnover of judges.


© 2023 Miami Herald

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