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‘King’ of Haiti’s 400 Mawozo gang sentenced to 35 years in U.S. prison

Germine Joly, better known as “Yonyon,” was the leader of the gang 400 Mawozo, which was behind the 2021 kidnapping of 17 missionaries with Ohio-based Christian Aid Missionaries. (Haiti National Police/TNS)

The self-described “king” of one of Haiti’s more notorious gangs has been sentenced to nearly four decades behind bars in federal prison in the United States for his role in a gunrunning conspiracy and laundering ransom payments of kidnapped American hostages to fuel his gang’s crime spree.

Germine “Yonyon” Joly and his lawyers had argued that he should get at the most 17.5 years behind bars for his guilty plea earlier this year to a 48-count indictment related to weapons-smuggling and money laundering after he changed his plea midway through his trial in Washington, D.C. Federal prosecutors, who laid out his criminal activities, including purchases of two dozen firearms and WhatsApp exchanges with one of his three Florida-based accomplices, argued for life.

In the end, U.S. District Judge John D. Bates sentenced Joly, 32, to 420 months or 35 years. It is the harshest sentence received by one of the four defendants in the case, who were indicted by a grand jury on charges of violating U.S. export laws and money laundering, among other crimes.

Prosecutors hope the tough sentence will send a clear message to Haiti’s criminal gangs, which have been responsible for not just an unprecedented deadly surge in violence in the volatile country but the kidnapping of U.S. citizens to fund their rampage.

“The leaders of violent gangs in Haiti that terrorize Americans citizens in order to fuel their criminal activity will be met with the full force of the Justice Department,” U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said after the sentencing.

U.S. Attorney Matthew Graves for the District of Columbia further elaborated the message the sentence sends.

“All too often, Americans in Haiti have been targets of gang violence,” he said. “These two defendants not only helped lead a prominent violent gang in Haiti, but they were also intimately involved in arming the gang and laundering ransom proceeds the gang obtained from kidnapping Americans. These sentences send a message that those who engage in such violence against Americans, and who arm and launder money on behalf of these violent gangs, will pay a heavy price.”

Directed kidnapping of missionaries

The leader of the 400 Mawozo gang, Joly was transferred to the U.S. aboard a special Federal Bureau of Investigation flight on May 3, 2022, following a request from the Department of Justice. That April 22 request was initially tied to the 2021 kidnapping of 17 missionaries with Ohio-based Christian Aid Missionaries, which 400 Mawozo took responsibility for. The gang demanded $1 million per hostage. The group was eventually released after an undisclosed ransom amount was paid, and the gang made the release look like an escape, according to sources in Haiti familiar with the hostages’ ordeal and the rift it later caused within the gang’s leadership structure.

Joly operated the criminal armed group while imprisoned inside Haiti’s National Penitentiary. He directed orders about kidnapping victims and decided how the money should be divided, prosecutors argued. Those familiar with the gang’s operations in Haiti say Joly was able to maintain control because he surrounded gang leader Lanmou Sanjou with his relatives to keep his No. 2 in check.

In Joly’s absence, Sanjou has emerged as a powerful leader of the gang, along with Vitel’homme Innocent, 400 Mawozo’s sometime nemesis, sometime ally in the eastern part of the capital that includes the road to the Dominican Republic border and the city of Tabarre, where the U.S. embassy is located.

Both Sanjou and Innocent are wanted by the FBI, which has offered a $2 million reward for Innocent.

Joly was indicted on four dozen charges related to weapons smuggling for his role in facilitating the purchase and smuggling of high-powered weapons from Florida to Haiti, but federal prosecutors also argued that the guns and ammunition were bought with the ransom proceeds from kidnapped Americans. Both he and his gang 400 Mawozo got into the cross-hairs of U.S. authorities when the FBI was called into investigate the missionaries’ kidnappings. They were grabbed at gunpoint after returning from visiting an orphanage.

Joly still has a tentative jury trial scheduled for February 18, 2025, on the charges related to the missionaries’ kidnapping.

Ahead of Monday’s sentencing, Joly’s three Florida accomplices were also sentenced. All three opted to avoid trial, including the leader of the South Florida pact, Eliande Tunis, who fashioned herself as the “queen” of the gang and leader of its South Florida’s offshoot.

A mother of three, the Pompano Beach resident played the role of interlocutor between Joly and co-defendants Walder St. Louis, 35, a cousin of Joly’s, and Jocelyn Dor, 31, another accomplice. St. Louis and Dor operated as straw buyers for 400 Mawozo. While purchasing handguns, rifles and semiautomatic high-powered rifles at Florida gun shops in Orlando and South Florida, they falsely stated they were the owners of the weapons, which they then had smuggled to Haiti disguised as shipments of used clothing and Gatorade.

St. Louis, who testified at trial, was given 36 months in federal prison, while Dor was sentenced to 60 months.

FBI effort to disrupt gangs

Joly and Tunis’ sentencing underscores the FBI’s dedication to “disrupting and dismantling gangs who undertake hostage-taking of U.S. Citizens anywhere,” FBI Special Agent in Charge Jeffrey Veltri of the FBI Miami Field Office said. “This includes taking away their ability to wreak violence on the innocent using smuggled firearms.”

According to testimony from 24 witnesses and other evidence presented at trial, the four co-defendants conspired with each other and with other gang members in Haiti at least from March through November 2021 to acquire and supply guns and ammunition to the 400 Mawozo gang, which operates east of Port-au-Prince.

From his prison cell while using a cell phone, Joly directed gang members in Haiti to transfer money to Tunis and others in Florida to purchase the weapons, which he provided specifications for over the phone and while they shopped. At least 24 guns, some with the ability to penetrate walls, were purchased during the time period.

In his argument for a lighter sentence, Joly placed blame for his incarceration in Haiti and criminal activities on a former Haitian government prosecutor and senator, Jean Renel Senatus.

In a nine-page letter to Bates ahead of the sentencing, Senatus rejected what he described as Joly’s “imaginary, fanciful and false allegations.” Joly, he said, was “the most sadistic, savage and brutal” of a group of armed gang leaders who occupied an area of Port-au-Prince.

With the then head of the Central Directorate of the Judicial Police, Rameau Normil, Senatus said, they set up a sting operation to arrest Joly.

From his cell in the country’s largest prison, Joly corrupted more than 23 police officers assigned to the police station in Gantheir, putting them on a monthly payroll of roughly $200 a month, Senatus said.

Telling the judge that he believes in American justice, Senatus asked for Bates to give “this dangerous criminal what he deserves, because if it wasn’t for his extradition to the United States of America, he would have been free today thanks to the recent escape recorded at the civil prison of Port-au-Prince.”


© 2024 Miami Herald

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