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#2271: ...S. Florida back in center of drug trade (fwd)

From: LMB <lauretteb@yahoo.com>

Published Thursday, February 10, 2000, in the Miami Herald 

Haitian cargo puts S. Florida back in center of drug trade
DISCOVERY: The U.S. Customs Service, FBI and DEA found nearly 3,000 pounds
of cocaine in a secret compartment of a ship.  
A handful of wealthy and well-connected drug traffickers from Haiti are
putting South Florida back in the forefront of the U.S. drug trade --
spurring a spate of violence and drug seizures that federal authorities
say harken to Miami's Wild West days of the 1980s.

``They are wealthy. They are powerful and they are politically connected
in a country that is struggling with being one of the most
poverty-stricken in the world,'' said Hardrick Crawford, chief of the
narcotics and organized crime division at the FBI in Miami.

``In just a few years, they have gone from being dormant, small-time
players to very serious players.''

In the past two weeks, federal authorities have learned just how serious
and sophisticated they are.

A stash of nearly 3,000 pounds of cocaine on board four freighters coming
from Haiti was so well-hidden behind the welded steel of the most remote
section of the keel that Customs agents had to haul the massive ships from
the water and cut through the hull from the outside to retrieve it.

Without FBI informants telling them exactly where the cocaine was hidden,
it never would have been detected. 

Federal authorities have long suspected that political turmoil and
economic instability has made Haiti a bull's-eye for Colombian traffickers
looking for the easiest path to the U.S. The focus of the drug trade --
for years hovering over the southwest border -- is once again swinging
South Florida's way, federal authorities say.

For three years, a federal task force has gathered information on some
13,000 pounds of seized cocaine from Haiti, 30 home invasion robberies and
more than 15 unsolved murders in Miami-Dade -- fallout from what federal
authorities say is a large drug organization based in Haiti.

Still, federal agents have been largely unsuccessful in penetrating the
Haitian border to gather information and investigate a group of Haitians
they say parlayed the money from small-time drug deals in the early 1990s
into a consortium that controls almost all the drugs leaving Haiti
secreted on ships.

Customs Special Agent in Charge Frank Figueroa cringes at the thought of
how many tons of cocaine may have slipped through already. He has ordered
his agents to conduct a ``cost-benefit'' analysis of the three to five
Haitian freighters arriving each week to pick up shipments of such items
as bicycles, beans, rice, and cooking oil.

In many cases, the freighters arrive empty and wait weeks to be loaded.

``I'm willing to bet they can't be making a living doing just that,''
Figueroa said. ``I don't think the numbers will work out. It's
frightening. This is a smuggling scheme that perhaps has gone on for a
long time.''


The FBI has been frustrated for years over the lack of drug intelligence
coming from Haiti. Officials point to a Haitian drug smuggler on their
most wanted list since Oct. 5, 1995: Lorquet St. Hilaire took a shot at an
FBI agent in a parking lot in North Miami, then slipped out of the country
to Haiti.

``We know where he is. We know where he lives,'' said one federal agent
close to the case. ``We can't touch him. That ought to tell you how
connected these people are over there. If we could just retrieve our
fugitives, we could put a real dent in this organization.''

So far, federal agents have been able to charge only one identified leader
of the consortium, Founa Jean Luis, who was named in a December
indictment. That indictment was unsealed Jan. 28 when her two alleged
Miami accomplices -- businesswoman Clarice Jean-Michel and Haitian boat
owner Emmanuel Thibaud -- were arrested on drug smuggling conspiracy

In a sealed affidavit filed in August, FBI agent Charles Daly described in
detail how Luis was caught in recorded telephone conversation with her
alleged co-conspirators organizing a shipment and its distribution. The
recordings came with the help of two Haitian drug dealers looking to buy
time off their own sentences in Orlando.

``Jean-Michel stated that [Luis], a Haitian-based drug supplier, had sent
a multi-hundred-kilogram load of cocaine from Haiti to Miami on a motor
vessel owned by Emmanuel Thibaud,'' Daly wrote.

Federal authorities say they know little more about Luis, whom they
believe is in her mid-40s. She remains a fugitive.


Jean-Michel, 46, of 8634 Sheraton Dr., Miramar, listed herself as an
``entrepreneur'' when she made a $500 political contribution in 1997. She
was the president and director of the now-dissolved corporation High Level
Multi-Services Inc., which federal investigators now say was likely a
front for a drug trafficking enterprise.

In 1997, Opa-locka police charged her with leaving the scene of a personal
injury accident and careless driving after she hit a school crossing guard
and kept driving. She later said she didn't see the guard.

Thibaud, 35, of 2781 NW 108th Ave., Miami, allegedly owned one of the
boats Luis used to ship the cocaine to the U.S.

Both Jean-Michel and Thibaud have been in federal custody awaiting trial
since their January arrest. On Jan. 29, federal agents began searching the
Haitian freighters on the Miami River.

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