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24 August 2005
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<TD =xq>Ex-officer admits helping drug trade
BY JAY WEAVER
A third Haitian police officer pleaded guilty in the case against officials in the government of deposed president Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
A former Haitian police officer in charge of the Port-au-Prince airport pleaded guilty Tuesday to assisting drug-traffickers ship Colombian cocaine to the United States -- the latest conviction in a probe targeting deposed President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's government.
Romaine Lestin, 36, admitted to shaking down Colombian and Haitian smugglers for thousands of dollars and letting them fly cocaine-filled planes through Haiti's capital to the United States.
He faces up to life in prison on the cocaine-conpiracy conviction. But he is expected to receive only about 10 years at a sentencing hearing Nov. 9 before U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke.
Lestin, expelled last summer from the Dominican Republic on a smuggling-conspiracy charge, is among four senior Haitian National Police officers implicated in the federal investigation led by the Drug Enforcement Administration, IRS and FBI.
From January 2001 to February 2004, Lestin held three police positions -- commander of the SWAT unit, precinct captain of the community of Tabre, and chief of the airport.
As part of his plea agreement, Lestin is providing inside information to federal prosecutors who have charged at least 14 suspects, most of whom have pleaded guilty to conspiring to import tons of cocaine into the United States and laundering millions of dollars in drug proceeds.
Jean Nesly Lucien, the former director of Haiti's National Police force, and Rudy Therassan, a former police commander, pleaded guilty this summer. Former Haitian anti-drug czar Evintz Brillant faces trial Sept. 12.
Assistant U.S. Attorney David Weinstein called the foursome ''corrupt national police officers'' at Tuesday's plea hearing, saying they allowed cocaine to be stowed in suitcases and cargo containers aboard American Airlines flights to Miami.
The wide-ranging investigation has not produced any direct evidence that Aristide was aware of the cocaine-smuggling and money-laundering conspiracy.
Still, Aristide, who has been living in exile in South Africa since last year, remains a target of the federal grand jury investigation.
At a sentencing hearing last year, another convicted Haitian cocaine smuggler, Jacques Ketant, blurted out that Aristide was a ''drug lord.'' The statement was not made under oath.
Aristide's name also was mentioned several times by a key witness in last month's trial of a reputed drug kingpin.
Oriel Jean, convicted Haitian presidential palace security chief, testified that Aristide approved a national security badge for Serge Edouard that allowed him to travel freely throughout the country and that the powerful trafficker donated money to the president's private charitable foundation.
Jean told jurors that Aristide was unaware of his involvement in the alleged drug organization headed by Edouard. He said Aristide only learned about it after confronting the security chief in 2003. The Miami federal jury convicted Edouard of running a conspiracy to export cocaine and pay bribes to top security officials in Aristide's administration.
Edouard, reputedly one of Haiti's richest men, was found guilty of 11 counts of cocaine smuggling and money laundering. He faces up to life in prison. </TD></TR></T></TABLE><BR clear=all>