On May 22, 2007, the judge in the mortgage fraud case of former Haitian death-squad leader Emmanuel “Toto” Constant dropped Constant’s plea bargain in the criminal case and ordered him to go to trial, where he faces a maximum of 15 years if convicted.
In his May 22 decision, State Supreme Court Judge Abraham Gerges wrote, “On June 7, 1995, defendant was deposed for a federal case against FRAPH and stated, ‘I’m not a member of FRAPH. I’m a leader of FRAPH.’ These allegations, if true, are heinous, and the court cannot in good conscience consent to the previously negotiated sentence. The court also cannot consent to time served, as that would be a travesty. The plea is hearby vacated and all counts of the indictment reinstated.” The judge set a trial date of September 24, 2007 for Constant's trial on the mortgage fraud charges.
The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), which has campaigned for years to have Constant held accountable for his crimes while a leader of the paramilitary group FRAPH (Revolutionary Front for Haitian Advancement and Progress), applauds Judge Gerges’ decision. CCR and the Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA) submitted a series of letters to the judge during the pre-sentencing period that detailed Constant’s long record of human rights violations against the Haitian people as well as information about the problems in the Haitian judicial and prison systems, which meant that Constant would be likely to instigate more violence if returned to Haiti rather than be held accountable for his human rights abuses. CCR also coordinated a letter-writing campaign that resulted in thousands of emails and faxes being sent to Judge Gerges urging him to bring Constant to justice, which he cited in his decision.
Said CCR Senior Attorney Jennie Green, “Today's ruling was a victory for Constant's victims, both those in Haiti and New York. We applaud the statement made by the Attorney General's office today in court that they are prepared to go to trial in September. A man such as Constant should not be granted leniency on his economic crimes committed here in New York. The judge's rejection of immediate deportation means that the Haitian justice and prison system will have a chance to recover from the ramifications of military rule so that Constant will have to face charges in Haiti for his campaign of rape and other torture against those advocating for democracy in Haiti.”
CCR has worked to hold Constant accountable for his crimes for more than a decade, from filing law suits to leading marches to his residence in Queens to working with grassroots groups in New York and Haiti to have him brought to justice. CCR, working with a coalition of Haitian and U.S. women’s organizations, went before the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which resulted in the condemnation of mass rape in Haiti by military and paramilitary forces including FRAPH.
Last fall, CCR, together with CJA and the law firm of Sonnenschein, Nath & Rosenthal, won a $19 million civil judgment against Constant for crimes against humanity, attempted summary execution, and rape and other torture.
A former paid CIA informant, Constant has been permitted to live in the U.S. since 1996 despite his crimes. Following a violent military coup against democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1991, FRAPH, under Constant's leadership, committed massacres, gang-rapes and other torture. Two of the three plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit were gang-raped in front of their families. A third was attacked by two FRAPH operatives and left for dead.
After President Aristide returned to power, his government issued an arrest warrant for Constant, but Constant fled to the United States. Constant has been living in Queens since 1994. Constant was arrested in July 2006 in connection with a real estate mortgage fraud scheme in Suffolk County, NY and pled guilty in February 2007 to grand larceny and fraud in the case. He negotiated a plea bargain with the State that would have resulted in a maximum sentence of three years, with the possibility of time served and also immediate deportation back to Haiti.
In the mid-1990s, CCR obtained documents from the U.S. government through a series of Freedom of Information Act Requests which confirmed the broad and systematic pattern of FRAPH abuses and revealed that Constant directly conspired in the assassination of President Aristide's Minister of Justice, Guy Malary.
The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at ccrjustice.org.