U.S. prosecutors this week dropped charges against two people accused of attempting to bribe officials in Haiti after new evidence came to light regarding lost recordings of calls that undercover agents conducted with one defendant.
A judge on Tuesday dismissed the Justice Department’s case against
Roger Richard Boncy
The two men were slated to go on trial at the U.S. District Court in Boston for a second time in July on charges that they solicited bribes from Federal Bureau of Investigation agents posing as potential investors in a project to develop an $84 million port in the Mole-Saint-Nicolas area of Haiti.
The case’s dismissal came a day after prosecutors made a sudden pivot on a long-running dispute over recordings of two phone calls that the FBI agents had conducted with Mr. Boncy in 2015, which were subsequently lost. That pivot was prompted by the discovery of FBI text messages describing those calls, including at least one that cast doubt on whether Mr. Bouncy had actually intended to pay any bribes.
The culmination of the FBI’s belated disclosure of new evidence about the two calls, along with a prior appeals court loss that had forced prosecutors to retry the case, weighed against further prosecution, prosecutors said Monday.
“As the government, our charging decisions deeply impact people’s lives,” U.S. Attorney
said in a statement. “After a careful review of this entire matter, we dismiss these charges in the interest of justice.”
The case involved the kinds of tactics that the Justice Department has said it wants to use more often in international bribery cases, including wiretaps and undercover agents. It also ended as a result of a legal challenge common in white-collar prosecutions: that prosecutors haven’t disclosed evidence that could help the defense.
When Mr. Baptiste, a dentist and retired U.S. Army colonel who resided in Maryland, was charged in an indictment unsealed in 2017, prosecutors said they had intercepted phone calls of Mr. Baptiste where he discussed bribing an aide to a Haitian government official with a job offer.
In 2018, they announced charges against Mr. Boncy, a dual U.S. and Haitian citizen who served as chairman of an investment firm and was residing in Spain at the time. During a recorded meeting at a hotel near Boston, Messrs. Boncy and Baptiste had allegedly told undercover agents that to secure government approval for the project, they would funnel payments to a Haitian official through a Maryland nonprofit Mr. Baptiste controlled, prosecutors said.
The two men were convicted after a two-week trial held at the U.S. District Court in Boston in 2019. But the judge overseeing the case overturned the jury’s verdict on the basis that ineffective assistance of counsel by Mr. Baptiste’s lawyer had hurt both Messrs. Baptiste and Boncy.
As the two approached their second trial in July, Mr. Boncy’s lawyers repeatedly pressed prosecutors for additional information about the lost recordings of the calls with their client. The recordings would have helped clear Mr. Boncy of any guilt, they said.
Prosecutors searched for additional evidence surrounding the recordings, but argued that the issue was moot since the loss of the recordings had already come up before the first trial. The court at the time had denied a request to dismiss the case against Messrs. Boncy and Baptiste, ruling that the loss of evidence was unintentional.
Then, on Friday, prosecutors said the FBI had unexpectedly provided them with previously undisclosed text messages that had been sent between the agents working the case and that were found on a computer server.
One FBI agent’s text described a statement Mr. Boncy made in one of the missing calls. In the text, Mr. Boncy was described as saying that certain money wouldn’t be used to pay bribes, prosecutors said. The statement appeared to support Mr. Boncy’s arguments that the calls had been exculpatory.
“It is clear now that Richard is innocent; no ifs, ands, or buts about it,”
a lawyer for Mr. Boncy, said in a statement on Tuesday. “Richard has always maintained he did nothing wrong and the evidence the FBI withheld proves that.”
“Dr. Baptiste and Mr. 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,”
a lawyer for Mr. Baptiste, said in a statement. “We are pleased that this long nightmare has finally come to just conclusion for Dr. Baptiste and his family.”
Write to Dylan Tokar at email@example.com
Copyright ©2022 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8
Credit: Source link