Feds drop Haitian bribes case after new evidence emerges
BOSTON (AP) — Federal prosecutors have dropped the case against a retired U.S. Army colonel and another businessperson after new evidence surfaced days before they were set to stand trial for a second time on allegations that they conspired to pay millions of dollars in bribes to Haitian officials.
Prosecutors in Boston moved to dismiss the indictment against Joseph Baptiste and Roger “Richard” Boncy late Monday after the FBI handed over never-before-seen messages between agents about December 2015 calls between Boncy and an undercover agent that bolster the men’s claims of innocence.
Baptiste, of Fulton, Maryland, and Boncy, a businessperson who lived in Spain, were convicted by a jury in 2019 of soliciting bribes from undercover federal agents who posed as potential investors in a proposed $84 million port project in the Mole-Saint-Nicolas area of Haiti.
Prosecutors alleged that Baptiste, a dentist who served 23 years in the Army, and Boncy told agents they would funnel the payments to Haitian officials through a nonprofit Baptiste controlled that purported to help impoverished residents of Haiti. Prosecutors claimed 5% of project costs would be allocated to bribe Haitian officials.
A judge in March of 2020 ordered a new trial for the men, citing “errors, omissions, and general lack of diligence” by Baptiste’s trial attorney. The second trial was scheduled to begin next week.
Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins said that late last week, the FBI provided prosecutors with communications they had never seen before about the Dec. 19, 2015, calls between Boncy and the undercover agent.
“We have an obligation to provide all discoverable evidence in our possession to the defense. That is a core principle of the criminal legal system,” Rollins said in an emailed statement.
In those text messages between FBI agents, which were sent on the same day that the calls were made, an agent wrote that Boncy “said 5% social program money is absolutely not for bribes,” according to Boncy’s lawyers.
Recordings of the calls no longer exist. Boncy’s attorneys long argued that the calls they said the FBI destroyed would prove his innocence. Prosecutors have said in court documents that a case agent “mistakenly failed to download the calls based on an erroneous understanding of an FBI retention policy.”
“It is clear now that Richard is innocent; no ifs, ands, or buts about it,” Boncy’s attorney, Jed Dwyer, said in an emailed statement. “Richard has always maintained he did nothing wrong and the evidence the FBI withheld proves that.”
Daniel Marx, attorney for Baptiste, said his client “never paid a penny in bribes” and never agreed to do so. Baptiste’s other attorney, William Fick, accused FBI agents of playing on “prejudiced tropes about pervasive Haitian corruption.”
“Those agents knew nothing about Haiti, a country they had never even visited,” Fick said in an emailed statement. “The agents had never spoken with the officials who were supposedly offered bribes or considered how their undercover operation might derail a significant development project that could better the lives of countless Haitian people,” Fick said.
A spokesperson for the FBI office in Boston declined Tuesday to comment.