Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Haiti Strongman to Be Tried in NYC Case Court Says Paramilitary Commander Must Be Tried in U.S. Before Returning to Haiti

Facing deportation to Haiti, where he is wanted for murder, the onetime commander of a paramilitary group was instead ordered in State Supreme Court in Brooklyn yesterday to stand trial on charges of grand larceny.

The former commander, Emmanuel Constant, known as Toto, stands convicted in absentia of organizing a massacre in 1994 as a leader of the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti, formed to silence loyalists of the deposed president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Mr. Constant fled Haiti that same year after Mr. Aristide returned to power. After living on the outskirts of Haitian communities in Queens for several years, Mr. Constant, 50, was arrested last year in connection with a scheme to defraud banks around New York using inflated appraisals and straw buyers for mortgages.

He has served about 10 months of a one-to-three-year negotiated sentence for mortgage fraud on Long Island. Prosecutors had agreed to a concurrent sentence of one to three years for similar charges in Brooklyn.

At a hearing last week, scheduled to impose the sentence for the Brooklyn charges, lawyers for the federal Department of Homeland Security argued that Mr. Constant should be sentenced to time served, which would speed his deportation to face the outcome of his conviction in Haiti.

But a lawyer for the Center for Constitutional Rights, an advocacy group, argued that jail and court facilities in Haiti were inadequate for proper handling of the case. The lawyer, Jennifer M. Green, asked Justice Abraham G. Gerges to order that Mr. Constant serve his full sentence, giving Haiti�s justice system time to stabilize.

At last week�s hearing, Mr. Constant said that he was ready and unafraid to return to Haiti. At a continuation of the hearing on Monday, he seemed to reverse himself, telling Justice Gerges he feared he would be killed as soon as he arrived in Haiti.

His criminal lawyer, Marie P. Pereira, argued that the charges in Haiti should not be considered in evaluating the mortgage fraud case.

Citing �recently received very detailed information� about Mr. Constant�s past in a report by the Center for Constitutional Rights, Justice Gerges rejected the plea bargain yesterday and ordered a full trial on grand larceny charges, carrying a maximum penalty of 5 to 15 years in prison.

Ms. Pereira protested the decision in open court, accusing Justice Gerges of bowing to public pressure and saying the court had been �fully aware of Mr.
Constant�s background.�

The decision, she said, �is a misuse of discretion, and we do intend to appeal.�

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