Long-Sought Haitian Drug Suspect Arrested, Taken to Miami
For six long years, the Drug Enforcement Administration salivated for a chance to bring reputed Haitian cocaine trafficker Jacques Beaudoin Ketant to justice.
But Ketant was virtually untouchable, living in an ornate mansion with wrought-iron balconies on a hilltop overlooking Port-au-Prince, occasionally dropping by his discotheque a half-mile away. His son rubbed shoulders with the children of diplomats at an elite American school in Haiti.
But the reputed drug trafficker found himself in a Miami courtroom Wednesday after a parent-teacher conference ran seriously awry.
Summoned to discuss his son's recent misbehavior, Ketant arrived with his normal coterie of bodyguards. But when they left minutes later, the schoolteacher was bloody from a severe beating.
Outraged American officials complained to Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who personally signed off on Ketant's arrest Tuesday.
''Basically, after that, the embassy was screaming at Aristide to get this guy out of here,'' said a source familiar with the case. ``And [Aristide] totally went along with it.''
Initial reports indicated Aristide had summoned Ketant to the presidential palace, where he was arrested. But sources said the Aristide phone-call scenario was part of an initial plan that never took place.
Instead, Ketant was arrested at his posh home in the Vivi Michel neighborhood outside the capital.
Haitian officials immediately expelled Ketant, freeing DEA agents and deputy U.S. marshals to put him on a plane bound for Puerto Rico, then Miami for his initial appearance Wednesday in front of a federal magistrate.
''It was a joint operation between the Haitian National Police and the DEA and the marshals,'' said Miami attorney Ira Kurzban, general counsel for the Haitian government in the United States. ``This cooperation is a major step forward for Haiti.''
According to the sources, Ketant's son had gotten in trouble with one of his teachers at The Union School, a private American academy run by Jesuits. The reputed trafficker arrived at the parent-teacher conference with his omnipresent phalanx of thugs. Reports are unclear exactly who beat the teacher.
While the U.S. attorney's office and the DEA in Miami declined to comment Wednesday, Ketant is clearly a major catch. The producers of America's Most Wanted dedicated a September 2001 segment to him.
DEA officials have told Congress that Ketant oversaw a broad transportation and distribution network of ''mules'' and ''couriers'' who carried tons of Colombian cocaine into the United States on airplanes and boats at entry points that included Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, New York and Chicago.
Ketant's organization bribed customs officials at Miami International Airport and John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.
Evens Gorgue, the MIA employee paid to turn his head as drug couriers passed through U.S. Customs, cooperated with authorities and had his 14-year sentence shaved to four years. Gorgue was accused of buying an expensive Parkland home, a Miramar condominium and several Margate apartments with his bribe money.
According to court records, the conspiracy dates back to 1987, when the brain trust of the old Medellin cartel -- the late Pablo Escobar, Jorge Luis Ochoa and the late Jose Rodriguez-Gacha -- decided to pool their resources and open a new cocaine route into the United States via Haiti.
Escobar sent Fernando Burgos-Martinez to pay off the Haitian military regime to permit the safe landing of cocaine-laden airplanes on local airstrips.
Herald staff writer Jacqueline Charles and correspondent Jane Regan contributed to this report.