Gang leaders targeted by the US State Department

Gang leaders targeted by the US State Department

The Department of Justice today announced the unsealing of criminal charges against seven leaders of five Haitian gangs, including gang leaders involved in the armed kidnappings of 16 U.S. citizens in the fall of 2021. 

“When a U.S. citizen is kidnapped abroad, the Justice Department will bring to bear the full reach of our law enforcement authorities to ensure their safe return home and to hold accountable those responsible,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “As these charges demonstrate, we are committed to working alongside our interagency and international partners to disrupt these kidnapping-for-ransom schemes that endanger the lives of American citizens and that fuel the violent gangs harming the Haitian people.”

Among the charges unsealed today were federal indictments charging three Haitian nationals with conspiracy to commit hostage taking and hostage taking for their roles in the armed kidnapping of 16 U.S. citizens in Haiti in the fall of 2021. The victims were Christian missionaries serving near Port-au-Price, Haiti, and most of them were held captive for 61 days before escaping. The group included five children, one as young as eight months old at the time of the kidnapping.

Contemporaneous with today’s announcement, the U.S. Department of State is announcing a reward of $3 million ($1 million per each of the three defendants charged in the kidnapping of the missionaries) for information leading to the capture of the three defendants, who are believed to be in Haiti. The reward is being offered under the Transnational Organized Crime Rewards Program.

Those three defendants, who are charged in separate indictments filed in the District of Columbia, include Lanmo Sanjou, aka Joseph Wilson, 29 and Jermaine Stephenson, aka Gaspiyay, in his late 20s, both current leaders of the 400 Mawozo gang, and Vitel’homme Innocent, 36, leader of the Kraze Barye gang. The 400 Mawozo gang, which operates in Croix-des-Bouquets area to the east of Port-au-Prince, claimed responsibility for the missionaries’ kidnapping. The Kraze Barye gang operates in the Torcelle and Tabarre areas of Haiti. According to the indictment, Innocent worked together with 400 Mawozo in the hostage taking.

In addition to the indictments for the kidnapping of the missionaries, the Department of Justice announced charges against four other Haitian nationals who are leaders of three other gangs for two other kidnappings of U.S. citizens in Haiti.

“The charges unsealed today are a reminder of the FBI’s ability to reach criminal actors overseas when crimes are committed against U.S citizens,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray. “The FBI, with our federal and international partners, will continue to pursue anyone who targets Americans for hostage taking or other violent crimes – wherever they are.”

“We stand with the people of Haiti, whose country has been ravaged by violent gangs impacting every facet of society,” said U.S. Attorney Matthew M. Graves for the District of Columbia. “We are committed to using all tools available to prosecute these gangs in order to disrupt their unlawful activities in Haiti and bring justice for our victims.”

“FBI Miami has extraterritorial responsibility for the Caribbean, Central and South America,” said Acting Special Agent in Charge Robert M. DeWitt of the FBI Miami Field Office. “When crimes against U.S. Citizens occur in Haiti and throughout this region, we will not relent. The FBI’s full investigative capability will be brought to bear to identify those responsible.”

The investigation involving the Oct. 16, 2021, kidnapping of the missionaries has also led to additional charges. Two alleged leaders of the 400 Mawozo gang previously were charged with the crimes. Joly Germine, aka “Yonyon,” 30, and Jean Pelice, aka “Zo,” 27, were charged by superseding indictment in July 2022. Both have pleaded not guilty to charges. According to court documents, Germine, who was in a Haitian prison at the time of the kidnapping, directed and asserted control of 400 Mawozo gang members’ kidnapping operations, including ransom negotiation for the hostages’ release. One of the gang’s stated goals in holding the hostages was to secure from the Haitian government Germine’s release from prison. Germine is alleged to have been in regular contact with other 400 Mawozo leaders about the hostages’ kidnapping, captivity, and ransom. Two of the hostages were released on or about Nov. 20, 2021, and three more were released on or about Dec. 5, 2021. The remaining hostages escaped captivity on or about Dec. 16, 2021. 

Additionally, charges also were unsealed today in cases involving three other Haitian gangs:

  • The leader of the gang Gran Ravine, Renel Destina, aka Ti Lapli, 40, was indicted on charges of hostage taking. Gran Ravine controls areas to the southwest of Port-au-Prince. The indictment charges the gang with kidnapping a U.S victim in February 2021, holding the victim for approximately 14 days, during which time the victim was threatened daily at gunpoint, while his family scrambled to secure funds for release. The victim was finally released on Feb. 16, 2021, after a ransom was paid.
  • A leader of the gang Village de Dieu, Emanuel Solomon, aka Manno, in his 30s, was charged in a criminal complaint for kidnapping a U.S. citizen in January 2021. The Village de Dieu gang controls areas to the southwest of Port-au-Prince. The victim was taken hostage at gunpoint and held for approximately 11 days until his family and friends in the United States sent a ransom payment to Haiti for his release. The gang kept the victim’s car and two phones, and finally released the victim on Jan. 23, 2021. Manno and fellow gang leaders are active on social media, posting about the gang’s exploits.
  • Two leaders of the gang Kokorat san Ras, John Peter Fleronvil and Jean Renald Dolcin, were charged by complaint for kidnapping at gunpoint three U.S. victims in July 2022. Two victims, a married couple, were held for six days and released following a ransom payment made by a family member. A third victim was taken captive the day after the other two U.S. victims and held for approximately six days while a family member negotiated for his release; that victim was also released following a ransom payment to the gang. The victims were all held together at the same location. Fleronvil and other Kokorat san Ras gang members were arrested on Sept. 11, by Haiti law enforcement officials while preparing to cross the border to the Dominican Republic.

Destina, Solomon, and Dolcin also are being sought.

The charges are merely allegations, and every defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law. If convicted of any offense, a defendant’s sentence will be determined by the court based on the advisory Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

The FBI’s Miami Field Office investigated the cases, with valuable assistance from the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service. The Haitian National Police also provided valuable assistance.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Karen P. Seifert, Jack Korba, and Brittany Keil for the District of Columbia prosecuted the cases with assistance from Paralegal Specialist Jorge Casillas and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Beau Barnes for the District of Columbia.


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