The unsolved 1997 Miami-Dade murder of imprisoned cocaine kingpin Jacques Ketant’s former mother-in-law is dogging his bid to cut his 27-year federal prison term by half.
BY JAY WEAVER
On a February morning in 1997, a masked gunman jumped out of a black Toyota and shot Claudie Adam twice as she chatted on a cellular phone, leaving her dead in the parking lot of a busy West Kendall shopping center.
The “cold” case is suddenly heating up because Adam’s son, Rene Joseph, has accused his former brother-in-law, imprisoned Haitian cocaine kingpin Jacques Ketant, of ordering what he calls an “assassination.”
Joseph’s startling allegation, spelled out in a recent letter to a federal judge, has stalled the U.S. government’s request to cut Ketant’s 27-year prison sentence by half for helping prosecutors convict a dozen fellow traffickers, senior police officers and a politician from Haiti.
Miami-Dade police, the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office won’t talk about the murder of Adam, 48, who had owned a Little Haiti travel agency.
In fact, a federal prosecutor has asked U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno, who put Ketant’s planned sentence reduction on hold in February after receiving Joseph’s letter, to meet privately to talk about the case.
“[T]his information concerns an open and ongoing investigation and would potentially address what evidence, if any, the investigation has uncovered with respect to the defendant [Ketant] and other individuals linked to the homicide,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Lynn Kirkpatrick wrote in a court filing.
The judge granted her request for the private meeting in his chambers, leaving out Ketant’s lawyers, who challenged Moreno’s decision.
But defense attorneys Ruben Oliva and Paul Petruzzi called the allegation against Ketant “false and absurd” in court papers filed this month, saying their client’s due-process rights would be violated if they don’t have “full access” to any information shared with the judge. The judge has not yet responded to their filing.
“In short, and without any evidence or factual basis whatsoever, Mr. Joseph accuses the defendant of ‘assassinating’ [Ketant’s] ex-mother-in-law,” the defense attorneys wrote, noting the Drug Enforcement Administration investigated the murder following Ketant’s arrest in 2003.
The attorneys also said they recognized the judge’s “obvious need” to review the status of the murder case, “to move beyond the equally unsupported speculation and rumor that continues to dog” Ketant to this day.
Both agreed to the prosecution’s request to let Miami-Dade police detectives and the FBI question Ketant about Adam’s murder, according to emails filed in court.
Ketant was married to Adam’s daughter, Sybil, at the time of the mother’s slaying 15 years ago.
On Feb. 10, 1997, Adam had just bought clothing at the T.J. Maxx at Southwest 72nd Street and 117th Avenue when two men in a black Toyota Paseo drove up. A masked passenger got out, shot her twice and left her dead next to a brand-new Mazda. The gunman stole nothing and sped off.
Adam’s slaying was eerily similar to the March 17, 1986, killing of her husband, Marc — felled by two shotgun blasts that came from a car that quickly sped away. Marc Adam, 35, was a “bolita” numbers runner who was wearing a $10,000 Rolex watch when he was killed in the couple’s West Kendall driveway just after stepping out of his wife’s gold Mercedes-Benz 300 SD sedan.
His slaying came a week after he testified against a Miami police officer who tried to shake him down. Adam was set to testify a month later against another officer.
That unsolved case did not come up at February’s sentence-reduction hearing for Ketant, 49, whose release date from an Arkansas federal prison is in 2026.
Moreno, the judge, delayed his decision on reducing the one-time powerful drug lord’s sentence, saying he wanted more details about Claudie Adam’s murder.
The judge also said he wanted current information about the government’s attempt to recover $15 million in drug profits and other assets identified when Ketant was convicted in 2003 of smuggling 30 tons of cocaine into South Florida and New York.
Among the assets: Ketant’s once-palatial $8 million Port-au-Prince mansion, which was looted after his arrest and later destroyed by the 2010 earthquake, according to a filing by Kirkpatrick, the prosecutor. He had also owned more than 200 artworks, including a painting by French Impressionist Claude Monet.
“It should be worth at least a million dollars,” Moreno said at the February hearing. “You don’t know where the Monet is?”
In court papers filed last month, Kirkpatrick said “the majority of the assets, including the Monet painting, were never recovered.” She added that only 88 paintings by Haitian artists, along with a Patek Phillippe watch, were seized by the DEA. The artworks sold for $33,347, and the watch for $1,862, according to her filing.
Ketant had lived as a virtually untouchable kingpin in his hilltop mansion. In 2003, Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide expelled him under U.S. pressure because Ketant’s bodyguards beat up an official at a private school attended by children of U.S. Embassy personnel.
That extraordinary move by Aristide allowed federal authorities to put Ketant on a plane for Miami and charge him with conspiring to ship loads of Colombian cocaine through Haiti by paying off island officials and police officers.
“When he arrived in the United States, [Haiti] was probably the first true narco-state,” Oliva, who urged the judge to cut Ketant’s sentence by more than half, said at the February hearing. “He was cooperating not only against fellow drug traffickers but also government officials.”
Despite looming questions about Adam’s murder, Ketant’s expected sentence reduction by the judge would be based solely on how much he helped prosecutors make the dozen criminal cases against other Haitian defendants.