Federal prosecutors will no longer be pursuing bribery charges against two Haitian-American businessmen after prosecutors discovered evidence contradicting FBI agents’ testimony and the Department of Justice’s own allegations that one of the men offered to pay a 5% bribe to Haitian officials to construct a new seaport in Haiti’s northwest region.
Federal prosecutors had accused Roger Richard Boncy and Dr. Joseph Baptiste of conspiring to funnel bribes of 5% of the cost of the construction deal to high-level Haitian government officials, including an aide to a prime minister. The 5% was “a key part of the government’s conspiracy theory.” The U.S. government also contended that the money would be funneled through Baptiste’s National Organization for the Advancement of Haitians, NOAH, a well-known non-profit.
The two men — Boncy is a former Haitian ambassador-at-large, and Baptiste is a Maryland dentist and retired Haitian-American U.S. Army colonel who ran NOAH — were convicted in June 2019 in federal court of conspiring to pay millions of dollars in bribes to Haitian government officials to build the port.
Jurors in Boston had found both men, who were tried together, of conspiring to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and the Travel Act. Baptiste was also convicted of conspiracy to commit money laundering and an additional Travel Act violation, while Boncy was cleared of the two counts.
A federal judge later overturned the jury’s conviction after Baptiste successfully appealed on the grounds of ineffective counsel from his lawyer. A new trial for both men which was set to start next week.
However, on Monday, U.S. prosecutors filed to dismiss the case after confirming that previously undisclosed text messages between Boncy and an undercover FBI agent confirmed the existence of a destroyed recording in which Boncy asserted that he knew nothing about the alleged 5% bribe.
The new information confirming Boncy’s lack of knowledge was turned over to the defense and the government.
Legal experts say the discovery of the text messages, which no longer support FBI agents’ testimony about Boncy’s alleged involvement, would raise credibility concerns in any trial had the government decided to still pursue charges against Baptiste.
In a statement, Boncy’s legal team at the lawfirm Greenberg Traurig noted that he had long maintained his innocence and insisted that two calls the FBI destroyed would prove his innocence.
“These texts —sent on the same day of the destroyed calls —specifically referenced the contents of the destroyed calls. In those texts, consistent with Boncy’s long-held defense, the FBI agent explicitly stated that ‘Richard said 5% social program money is absolutely not for bribes.’ This is exactly what Boncy has claimed all along.
“And, more egregiously, the existence and content of these texts are directly at odds with the FBI special agents’ testimony throughout this case.” the statement said.
Jed Dwyer, who led Boncy’s defense, said: “It is clear now that Richard is innocent; no ifs, ands or buts about it. The government agrees and today dismissed the sole remaining count against our client.”
Dwyer said Boncy was adamant in his innocence and his commitment to proving his innocence. “Richard had the courage to stand up to the government, which is a rarity these days… Too often the government rides roughshod over defendants.”
Baptiste lawyers noted that the case had gone on for nearly five years.
“Dr. Baptiste never paid a penny in bribes, and he never agreed with Mr. Boncy or anyone else to do so,” said one of his attorneys, Daniel Marx. “Dr. Baptiste’s work to build a port in an especially impoverished part of Haiti was consistent with his lifelong commitment to improve the lives of Haitian people, in Haiti and elsewhere.”
William Fick, co-counsel for Dr. Baptiste said his client and Boncy “were unfortunate victims of a misguided ‘sting’ operation, in which FBI agents posed as foreign investors and played on prejudiced tropes about pervasive Haitian corruption.”
“Those agents knew nothing about Haiti, a country they had never even visited,” Fick said. “The agents had never spoken with the officials who were supposedly offered bribes or considered how their undercover operation might derail a significant development project that could better the lives of countless Haitian people.”
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