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28946: Sprague (News) Judge rules against Toto Constant (fwd)

From Sprague <jebsprague@mac.com>

Copyright 2006 Associated Press
All Rights Reserved
The Associated Press State & Local Wire

August 17, 2006 Thursday 11:45 PM GMT


LENGTH: 20314 words

HEADLINE: Judge rules against former Haitian strongman in rape lawsuit

BYLINE: By TOM HAYS, Associated Press Writer



A federal judge has ruled in favor of a human rights organization that sued the notorious head of a Haitian paramilitary group because he never responded to a complaint alleging he sanctioned gang rapes by his forces.

In a decision issued Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Sidney Stein set an Aug. 29 hearing to determine if Emmanuel "Toto" Constant must pay unspecified damages to three women accusing his troops of rape in the lawsuit brought by the San Francisco-based human rights group Center for Justice and Accountability.

The judge said he ruled against Constant because since the unidentified women sued in December 2004 he "has not answered the complaint and the time for answering the complaint has expired."

No attorneys are listed for Constant in the federal filings, and a lawyer representing him in a separate mortgage fraud case declined to comment Thursday.

Constant emerged as the feared leader of a right-wing paramilitary group, the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti, or FRAPH, after Jean-Bertrand Aristide's presidency was toppled in 1991. FRAPH terrorized and slaughtered slum-dwellers loyal to Aristide between 1991 and 1994, human rights groups say.

The most notorious incident was a 1994 massacre of residents in the Haitian beachfront town of Raboteau, where soldiers and paramilitary personnel burst into dozens of homes to beat and arrest local residents. People who fled were killed in the so-called Raboteau Massacre, although the number of deaths is unknown.

The attack was designed to break the will of Aristide supporters.

Once Aristide returned to power in 1994, Constant fled to New York, living in exile while battling deportation.

In 2000, a Haitian court sentenced Constant to life in prison following his conviction in absentia for the slaughter.

According to court papers, Constant worked exclusively for the last five years in real estate and admitted to investigators that he was involved in numerous fraudulent transactions.

Constant was indicted in July along with five other people for a mortgage fraud linked to a four-bedroom home on Long Island. The defendants pleaded not guilty to charges they stole $750,000 from a pair of financial institutions by using phony buyers for the home.

Constant's take was $45,000, authorities said, and he faces 8 1/3 to 25 years in prison if convicted.

Constant was arraigned on charges of grand larceny, forgery and falsifying business records in the mortgage fraud probe July 8. Over the objection of prosecutors, his bail was set at $50,000, but lawyers in the civil case said he was never released because of his uncertain immigration status.

His criminal attorney, Edward Palermo, said then that Constant was granted bail because he had no criminal record since coming to the U.S. He said prosecutors, who had asked for Constant's immediate jailing, "tried to take his alleged past history and use it to prejudice the judge."