Federal agents charged a Broward man who they said boldly continued to illegally export weapons even after he realized that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms was on his trail.
Vladimir Jean-Baptiste, 40, a legal permanent resident who prosecutors said was linked to several addresses in Broward County and New York, was arrested when he returned from one of many recent trips to his homeland.
Authorities said that during the arrest process, Jean-Baptiste told agents that they didn’t know who they were messing with because he was close to the president of Haiti and warned that one agent’s “world was about to come to an end.”
Jean-Baptiste was in federal court in West Palm Beach on Wednesday to face an indictment charging him with conspiracy to smuggle firearms from the U.S. If convicted, he faces five years in prison.
Jean-Baptiste spoke only briefly and politely to U.S. Magistrate Judge James Hopkins but tried to defiantly stare down federal agents sitting in the courtroom.
Jean-Baptiste told investigators that he knew what he was doing was illegal when they first interviewed him in November 2010, but he continued to do it, prosecutor Michael Walleisa told the judge. The shipments also violated a U.S. embargo on exporting firearms to Haiti, the prosecutor said.
“[He said] Haitians were in need of armed protection and that he and his partner … agreed to start a security firm there” and “he was arming his people,” Walleisa said.
Lending possible credibility to Jean-Baptiste’s claim of official Haitian support, Walleisa said that Jean-Baptiste was carrying a Blackberry phone provided by the Police Nationale d’Haiti, the country’s police and defense force, when he was arrested on May 31.
“I don’t think they give that to every citizen who shows up in the country,” Walleisa told the judge.
Agents said that Jean-Baptiste admitted he illegally sent the guns without notifying the Miami-based shipping company or federal authorities of the contents.
Starting in August 2009, Jean-Baptiste bought some 29 semi-automatic handguns and shotguns and appeared to have shipped or smuggled them in some way to the island nation, prosecutors said. Jean-Baptiste would send the items, then fly to Haiti to pick them up, investigators said. Records show he made 22 trips to Haiti since 2009, they said.
Prosecutors said Jean-Baptiste was a flight risk and danger to the community, both here and overseas.
Jean-Baptiste needed more time to hire an attorney but David Howard, a lawyer who spoke on his behalf in court, said Jean-Baptiste had to have known an indictment was coming, yet returned to South Florida.
“He was caught — not trying to leave the country — he was caught coming back into the country,” Howard said, adding that Jean-Baptiste’s wife and three daughters, ages, 4, 7, and 9, live here.
The judge said Jean-Baptiste’s evident contempt for the law, his ties to Haiti and his immigration status were among the reasons he should be detained, at least for now, pending trial.