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Did a bogus tale of U.S.-backed drug raids help set Haiti assassination in motion?

·8 min read

A month before the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse, two South Florida men turned up at an unusual meeting in the Caribbean nation, according to information presented to a Haitian prosecutor.

The men were there on a mission. Its purpose: To discuss an elaborate U.S. government plan to bust drug trafficking Haitian government officials using Federal Bureau of Investigation and Drug Enforcement Administration agents.

The plan was apparently bogus, but no matter. The meeting got underway. It ultimately helped foreshadow Moïse’s shocking death. The bearers of the fictitious plan are now in custody, accused in connection with the killing. Most everyone else in the meeting is either being held by authorities or sought by them.

The bizarre tale is told in a five-page letter written by a lawyer for one of the accused, a security company owner, and sent to Haitian prosecutors. The letter was obtained by journalists for the Miami Herald and McClatchy’s Washington Bureau.

The meeting and its aftermath offer a new data point in the murky timeline leading up to Moïse’s July 7 assassination and could widen a U.S. government probe into the involvement of American citizens.

Discussions of the supposed plan coincided with the arrival in Haiti of several former Colombian military soldiers — also accused in the crime — from the Dominican Republic, and came a month after several of those now in custody held a pivotal May 12 meeting in Fort Lauderdale to discuss financing a presidential transition in Haiti but that Haitian police say was to plot out the killing.

The meeting in Haiti purportedly happened either on June 8 or June 9. It took place at the home of Haiti-based security firm owner Reynaldo Corvington. The six-man delegation, including South Floridians James Solages and Joseph Vincent, arrived to discuss what they described as a State Department operation involving the FBI and the DEA, according to the letter.

The correspondence was sent by Corvington’s attorney, Samuel Madistin, to Haitian government prosecutor Bedford Claude. It describes discussions involving Solages and Vincent, both Haitian Americans, an unidentified Spanish-speaking foreigner and several others who are either currently under arrest in Haiti or wanted in the assassination.

Madistin said the meeting took place at about 6 p.m. and that the aim was not to plot a middle-of-the-night armed assault, as Haitian police have accused his client of doing, but to gauge the business owner’s opinion about the supposed crackdown on drug traffickers and money launderers.

As described, the operation would have resulted in the arrest of as many as 34 Haitian business owners and senior Haitian government officials “involved in money laundering, drug trafficking, the sale of diplomatic passports to citizens of the Middle East region, corruption and the seizure of their property.”

Haitians march to demand justice for slain President Jovenel Moïse in Lower Delmas, a district of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Monday, July 26, 2021. Moïse was assassinated on July 7 at his home.
Haitians march to demand justice for slain President Jovenel Moïse in Lower Delmas, a district of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Monday, July 26, 2021. Moïse was assassinated on July 7 at his home.

Corvington, his lawyer said, was told that 25% of the proceeds from the property seizures would be retained by the FBI as commission, with most of the rest going back to the Haitian populace in the form of development projects, including school and hospital construction.

After being informed of the operation, his client asked “to see the warrants.” He wanted to “get an idea of who would be arrested, as the list of people affected by these operations had not been presented,” Madistin said.

That’s when the meeting derailed.

“Faced with the delegation’s refusal to show any mandate, the meeting was abruptly ended,” he said.

In an interview with the Herald, Madistin said his client, who rarely went to the office and whose beachfront home was set ablaze after his arrest, now realizes the entire plan was a farce.

“It wasn’t really the FBI at the meeting,” Madistin said. “It was Colombians implicated in the plot who were there.”

Others present included Joseph Felix Badio, a former Haitian government employee who worked for Corvington and called him up saying “an FBI officer and a DEA official wished to meet with him and asked him if he could receive them at his home in the afternoon.” Solages and Vincent were allegedly part of the delegation, as well as Rodolphe Jaar, a convicted drug trafficker, who showed up late.

During the subsequent FBI questioning of his client, Corvington was shown a photo of a Colombian and asked if he was the one present at the discussion, Madistin said. Corvington replied in the affirmative. Madistin said he doesn’t know who the individual in the photo was.

If Corvington’s statement turns out to be true, the fictitious operation is one more twist in the ongoing multinational whodunit investigation that so far has not revealed who is behind the murder or who financed it.

A gang member poses with his revolver before a rally to demand justice for slain Haitian President Jovenel Moïse in the La Saline neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Monday, July 26, 2021. As conditions have deteriorated, gangs have been driving people from their homes in the impoverished neighborhoods of Port-au-Prince.
A gang member poses with his revolver before a rally to demand justice for slain Haitian President Jovenel Moïse in the La Saline neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Monday, July 26, 2021. As conditions have deteriorated, gangs have been driving people from their homes in the impoverished neighborhoods of Port-au-Prince.

A well-known security firm in Haiti, Corvington’s company has received several contracts from the State Department dating to a period between 1993 and 1995. The company, Corvington Security Service, first won a $666,000 competitive bid award to provide guard services for the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince.

In October 1994, Corvington was awarded a supplemental contract worth more than $1.9 million and in 1995 another competitive-bid contract totaling $1.135 million. There are no records of further work for the U.S. government. On its website, Corvington boasts of “Integrity-Independence-Confidence.”

Haitian police have arrested at least 26 individuals, including the head of the president’s security team, 18 Colombians, and five of the individuals who were present at the June meeting. Those individuals include Corvington, his son-in-law Dominick Cauvin, employee Gilbert Dragon and Haitian Americans Solages and Vincent. A representative of Dragon confirmed to the Herald that Dragon was present on the day in question but said he was there to meet with Cauvin and Corvington for a work visit the next morning and was not part of any plot to kill the president.

Three other individuals who were allegedly present at the meeting — Badio; John Joël Joseph, a former senator whose actual name is Joseph Joël John, according to his passport, and Jaar — remain at large.

Solages and Vincent have told investigators and a Haitian judge that they worked as translators for the Spanish-speaking Colombians involved in the operation. They said the mission was not to kill the president but to serve an arrest warrant on him and take him to the presidential palace, where Christian Emmanuel Sanon, a South Florida-based Haitian doctor also now under arrest, would be installed as president.

The July 7 operation at Moïse’s hilltop residence in the Pelerin 5 neighborhood, they said, lasted an hour and 15 minutes. During that time, residents in the area and police reported hearing the hit squad yell “DEA operation” through a megaphone.

The DEA has said there was no such operation. Reporting by McClatchy and the Miami Herald has confirmed that Vincent was at times an informant for the DEA.

Prior to the June meeting, Solages, Vincent and Joseph Joël John, the ex-senator, would participate in several other meetings, including at least two just weeks before the assassination, according to a law enforcement source familiar with the investigation.

One involved approximately a dozen Colombians arriving to accompany Sanon and another to secure arms.

A Miami attorney representing Vincent said she has spoken to her client twice since he has been in custody in the aftermath of the Haitian president’s killing.

Attorney Regina de Moraes told the Herald Thursday that Vincent had worked for the DEA as a confidential informant for more than 10 years and had left South Florida for Haiti in January of this year.

“He has been in Haiti because he’s usually there at the behest of the U.S. government,” de Moraes said. “He didn’t know anything about the assassination. He was shocked by the assassination.”

She said in the immediate aftermath of Moïse’s death, Vincent called his DEA handler.

Vincent’s attorney also said she was unaware of her client’s presence at the meeting in June with other suspects and persons of interest in Haiti’s investigation who the national police now suspect concocted a plan to kill Moïse.

“This is the first time I’ve heard about the meeting,” de Moraes told the Herald. “I don’t know if he was there or not.”

She said her client has reached out not only to his DEA handler but also voluntarily spoken to State Department officials in Haiti on two occasions since his arrest.

Meanwhile, Solages, who until April was a maintenance director of a senior living center in Lantana, Florida, and ran a small charity for his native city of Jacmel, is said to be the person who introduced Sanon to Antonio Intriago, according to sources familiar with their business relationship and participated in meetings with Solages in South Florida this spring, including one in May at the Tower Club in Fort Lauderdale.

Intriago is the Venezuelan emigré whose Doral security firm, CTU, has been linked to the president’s killing.

It was at the Tower Club meeting where Solages and Sanon pitched a group on the idea of investing in energy projects in Haiti and on removing its president in a peaceful transition of power.

Miami Herald staff writer Jay Weaver contributed to this report.

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