Ex-Militia Chief From Haiti Is Sentenced to Up to 37 Years for Fraud
By KIRK SEMPLE
A former Haitian paramilitary leader accused by human rights groups of committing murder and torture in Haiti was sentenced on Tuesday to as many as 37 years in prison for his role in a mortgage fraud scheme in Brooklyn that bilked lenders out of more than $1 million.
In his sentencing remarks, Justice Abraham G. Gerges of State Supreme Court in Brooklyn linked the defendant, Emmanuel Constant, to the American foreclosure crisis and the current global economic turmoil.
“This case, while serious in and of itself, takes on an added resonance given the current global financial crisis,” the judge said. “While the defendant and his confederates cannot be held accountable for the nationwide economic meltdown and the foreclosure crisis, this scheme, and others like it, have played a role in the situation.”
In the fraud, Mr. Constant and his collaborators used straw home buyers, falsified information on loan applications and inflated appraisals to cheat lenders.
The “defendant was a full and active participant in this scheme,” Justice Gerges said, adding that he found it interesting that Mr. Constant showed no remorse for the crimes he committed.
The sentence calls for a prison term of 12 1/3 to 37 years.
Mr. Constant’s lawyer, Samuel Karliner, said he planned to file a notice of appeal on Wednesday.
Human rights groups have accused Mr. Constant, known as Toto, of running a paramilitary group in the early 1990s that raped, tortured or killed thousands of people in Haiti in an effort to silence loyalists of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was toppled in a coup in 1991.
When Mr. Aristide returned to power in 1994, Mr. Constant fled Haiti and surfaced in the United States, where he lived in Queens and worked as a real estate agent until 2006, when he was jailed in the fraud case.
He was convicted in July on six counts of fraud, grand larceny and falsifying business records.
Mr. Constant pleaded guilty in 2007 to involvement in a similar scheme on Long Island. He was sentenced to one to three years in that case.
In a statement prior to the sentencing on Tuesday, the prosecutor, Thomas Schellhammer, an assistant deputy attorney general, urged the judge to consider Mr. Constant’s “past criminal conduct” in Haiti in determining the penalty. “Those were extraordinary evils,” Mr. Schellhammer said.
In response, Mr. Karliner implored the judge to base his sentence only on the crimes at issue in the New York case. “We punish people for what they have done on our soil,” he said.
Mr. Constant also addressed the judge, saying that his role in the mortgage fraud scheme was “completely minimal.” He said that he had been unfairly accused of crimes in Haiti. “No one ever witnessed Emmanuel Constant promoting violence,” he said. “I’ve always promoted reconciliation and peace.”
Justice Gerges said he hoped that Mr. Constant would remain in the State of New York to serve out his sentence but that federal officials may move to deport him.
While the judge mentioned Mr. Constant’s past in Haiti, noting his “truly heinous record of violence, murder, torture and intimidation,” he did not explicitly say he had weighed this history in his evaluation of a sentence.