A former Haitian government official charged in a telecom bribery scheme involving Haiti’s state-owned telecommunications company must come up with $100,000 if he hopes to be released from a federal detention center in Miami, a judge ordered Monday.. Robert Antoine, who has homes in Miami and Haiti, was extradited from Port-au-Prince Saturday after being indicted for his alleged role in a foreign bribery, wire fraud and money laundering scheme.
Antoine, 61, is a former director of international relations with Haiti Teleco, the country’s only provider of non-cellular telephone services to and from Haiti. He has been indicted along with four others including: Miami-Dade telecom company executives Joel Esquenazi, 53, of Miami; Carlos Rodriguez, 53, of Davie; and former Haiti Teleco executive Jean-Rene Duperval of Miramar and Haiti, and Duperval’s sister, Marguerite Grandison, 40, of Miramar. Duperval was extradited to Miami early last week. During Monday’s bond hearing, U.S. Magistrate Judge William Turnoff set a $1 million bond for Antoine. He must pay 10 percent to secure his release.
“The defendant here isn’t exactly Tinker Bell,” Turnoff, who is known for his sense of humor, said in court while determining the size of the bond..
Federal prosecutors argued that Antoine was a flight risk and wanted him detained. “He is the primary mover and shaker who made this all happen,” U.S. Attorney Kimberly Selmore said in court. “Without him, this couldn’t be done.”
Selmore argued it was Antoine who was responsible for the contracts that allowed Esquenazi and Rodriguez to defraud Haiti Teleco. Antoine was joined by 19 family and friends in court Monday, and family members say they will come up with the money. Another hearing is scheduled to determined if the money is clean.
Antoine’s attorney Dennis Kainen argued that his client should be allowed to post bail to fight the charges from behind bars. He said even before his extradition he had intended to fly to Miami from Haiti on Sunday.
“His ties to the community are overwhelming,” said Kainen, noting that Antoine has been living in South Florida since 1969.
In court, Kainen said Antoine has always known that he could be charged. He first came to see him in April 2006.
Several months earlier, Haiti’s interim government that came to power following the 2004 ouster of exiled Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, filed a civil lawsuit in Florida accusing Aristide and several Teleco employees, including Duperval, of “looting the public treasury” through telephone schemes.
The suit, however, stalled after becoming mired in Haiti’s dysfunctional legal system, polarized politics, and then-newly elected President René Préval lack of action on the case against his one-time mentor.
“Suspicion haunts the guilty mind…” Antoine knew the entire operation was a major criminal endeavor and has discussed the implications with friends over the intervening period. With this in mind, he retained an attorney in 2006. As the article suggests, there will be some discussion of whether or not the bail money is clean, or the result of the criminal activity. This probably applies to most money in Haiti nowadays.
A major lawsuit against Jean-Bertrand Aristide for his pillage of Haiti’s treasury and involvement in the criminal association with a number of telecommunications companies – including FUSION – was launched by a major law firm in the United States. This firm was acting on a pro bono basis in an effort to obtain some justice for Haiti. It had been retained by Prime Minister Gerard Latortue.
The litigation was moving forward when Rene Preval was given the Presidency by MINUSTAH in 2006. One of his first acts was to cancel the legal action, without comment. President Preval’s move was to guarantee his criminal involvement, along with that of Aristide and other associates, would not become a public spectacle.
Over a billion dollars had been diverted from Haitian accounts, into those of American associates, Preval, Aristide, Leslie Voltaire and their criminal associates..
Perhaps the legal action will be revived in the future, following the old saying…”You can run, but you cannot hide…”
There is now a competition, among the various attorneys involved, to make favorable deals for their clients in which they will give up Jean-Bertrand Aristide and President Rene Preval, along with other major American and Haitian criminals.