By Larry Lebowitz, The Miami Herald
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
''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
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
''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
Escobar sent Fernando Burgos-Martinez to pay off the Haitian military
regime to permit the safe landing of cocaine-laden airplanes on local
Herald staff writer Jacqueline Charles and correspondent Jane Regan
contributed to this report.