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HomeNewsCaribbean News‘King’ of violent Haitian gang pleads guilty to gun smuggling and money...

‘King’ of violent Haitian gang pleads guilty to gun smuggling and money laundering

HAITI / USA, (DOJ) – Joly Germine, 31, of Croix-des-Bouquets, Haiti, the self-described “King” of a notoriously violent Haitian gang known as 400 Mawozo, pleaded guilty on January 31, 2024, to his role in a gunrunning conspiracy that smuggled firearms to Haiti in violation of US export laws, and the laundering of ransoms paid for US hostages to the gang in 2021.

The conspiracy resulted in the purchase in the United States of at least 24 firearms, including AK-47s, AR-15s, an M4 Carbine rifle, an M1A rifle, and a .50 caliber rifle, described by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) as a military weapon, which were smuggled from the United States to the gang in Haiti for their criminal activities. Co-defendant Eliande Tunis, 45, of Pompano Beach, Florida, pleaded guilty on January 17 to the same offenses.

“Germain, a leader of a notorious Haitian gang, admitted to an illegal gun-running scheme to arm fellow gang members with US firearms in support of the group’s violent crime spree across Haiti, including the alleged 2021 kidnapping of 14 US citizens,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division. “The Justice Department will aggressively pursue every tool at its disposal to hold accountable those who would smuggle US-origin weapons and other controlled goods for the benefit of malicious actors and their criminal enterprises.”

“Violent gangs have ravaged Haiti, and all too often, Americans in Haiti have been targets of their violence,” said US attorney Matthew M. Graves for the District of Columbia. “These two defendants not only helped lead a prominent violent gang in Haiti, but they were also intimately involved in arming the gang and laundering ransom proceeds the gang obtained from kidnapping Americans. Preventing them from illegally shipping anymore firearms or laundering the proceeds of kidnappings strikes a critical blow against the gang they once led.”

“Violent, well-armed gangs pose an ongoing threat to US Citizens who live in or travel to Haiti,” said Special Agent in Charge Jeffrey B. Veltri of the FBI Miami Field Office. “As Joly Germine and Eliande Tunis have just learned, the FBI is dedicated to disrupting and dismantling gangs who undertake hostage-taking of US Citizens anywhere. This includes taking away their ability to wreak violence on the innocent using smuggled firearms.”

The plea came at the end of the government’s case during trial, after the testimony of 24 witnesses and two weeks of evidence. Germine, a Haitian national, pleaded guilty in the US District Court for the District of Columbia before Judge John D. Bates to the 48-count second superseding indictment. The indictment charged Germine with conspiring to violate US export control laws and to defraud the United States, violating export control laws, smuggling, and laundering the proceeds of ransoms paid to free US hostages taken by the gang and laundering money to promote his crimes. He faces up to life in prison when he is sentenced on May 15.

Germine’s co-defendant and former girlfriend, Tunis, who styled herself as his “wife” and was described at trial as the “Queen”, pleaded guilty on the eve of trial on Jan. 17, to the same 48-count indictment. She also faces up to life in prison when she is sentenced on May 8. Another co-defendant, Jocelyn Dor, 31, who acted as a straw gun purchaser for Germine and Tunis, previously pleaded guilty on Oct. 30, 2023, and will be sentenced on Feb. 28.

According to evidence presented at trial, from at least March through November 2021, Germine, Tunis, and two co-defendants conspired with each other and with other gang members in Haiti to acquire and supply firearms to the 400 Mawozo gang in Haiti. Germine directed the gang’s operations from a Haitian prison using unmonitored cell phones, including directing gang members in Haiti to transfer money to Tunis and others in the United States for the purpose of obtaining firearms for the gang. Germine then provided Tunis and the two other US-based co-defendants, all Florida residents, specifications for firearms and ammunition that Germine and other gang leaders wanted sent to Haiti.

Tunis and the two co-defendants then purchased at least 24 rifles, handguns, and a shotgun at Florida gun shops while falsely stating that they were the “actual buyers” of the firearms, when they were in fact acting as straw purchasers for Germine. In approximately May 2021, Tunis smuggled firearms and ammunition to Haiti in containers disguised as food and household goods. In October 2021, Tunis shipped additional firearms and ammunition to Haiti, again by smuggling the firearms, but those firearms were seized by the FBI before they left the United States.

400 Mawozo is a violent Haitian gang that operated in the Croix-des-Bouquets area to the east of the capital, Port-au-Prince. From at least January 12, 2020, 400 Mawozo was engaged in armed hostage takings of US citizens in Haiti for ransom. The victims have generally been forced from their vehicles at gunpoint and kept in various locations by armed gang members while their relatives and colleagues negotiate payment for their release. At trial, the government presented evidence that the gang received ransom payments from the hostage-taking of three US citizens in the summer of 2021, who testified at trial, and the cash ransom proceeds were commingled with the gang’s funds and transferred via MoneyGram and Western Union from the United States to Haiti to buy more firearms.

In the fall of 2021, the 400 Mawozo gang claimed responsibility for taking 16 US citizens hostage, including five children, and one Canadian citizen who were part of a missionary organization visiting an orphanage in Port-au-Prince. The gang demanded a ransom of $l million for each hostage. The hostages were all released or had escaped by on or about December 16, 2021. This case does not address those hostage-taking charges, for which Germine has been separately indicted in case number 22-cr-161 (DDC).

The FBI Miami Field Office investigated the case, with assistance from the ATF and the Department of Commerce’s Office of Export Enforcement. Valuable assistance was provided by the government of Haiti, particularly the Haitian National Police, the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs, the Diplomatic Security Service of the US Department of State, and the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida’s Special Prosecutions Section.

Assistant US attorneys Karen P. Seifert and Kimberly Paschall and Paralegal Specialist Jorge Casillas for the District of Columbia and Trial Attorney Beau Barnes of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section are prosecuting the case.

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