WaPo: Records Reveal how Haitian American Held in Assassination Probe Financed a ‘Personal Security’ Team
By Shawn Boburg, Anthony Faiola, Samantha Schmidt and Dalton Bennett
Washington Post, July 15, 2021
In a spacious meeting room overlooking the courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., a vision to “save Haiti” took shape. The $83 billion effort would reinvent the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation, lavishing it with roadways, electricity grids, seaports and airports.
Haiti’s new dawn, attendees at the May 12 meeting were told, would be led by Christian Emmanuel Sanon — a 63-year-old Haitian American and self-described pastor and physician now detained in Haiti in connection with the investigation into the audacious assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse.
Sanon’s stated mission during that gathering: Turn “Haiti into a free and open society,” said Parnell Duverger, 70, a retired professor who attended the Fort Lauderdale presentation and had drafted the redevelopment plan pitched by Sanon.
Antonio “Tony” Intriago
Those arrayed around Sanon included Walter Veintemilla, a Florida financier who invests in infrastructure projects, and Antonio “Tony” Intriago, the owner of a local security firm also in Florida, according to Duverger and another person familiar with the meeting. The gathering became a precursor to an ambitious written proposal shared among Sanon and the two business owners the following month and obtained by The Washington Post.
A company owned by Veintemilla, Worldwide Investment Development Group, and Intriago’s CTU Security would recruit and assemble a private security force to protect Sanon until he became Haiti’s president, according to the details in an unsigned draft consulting agreement obtained by The Post. Sanon ultimately would repay them for their services using the country’s assets, according to the draft contract circulated on June 22.
A separate document obtained by The Post lays out proposed loans totaling more than $860,000 to Sanon for ammunition, equipment, transportation and accommodations for personnel, and listed dates for expenditures during May and June. Three-fourths of the $860,000 would be covered by Worldwide, the breakdown shows, and the remainder from CTU.
The revelations of a grand plan to rebuild Haiti backed by Sanon and others — as well as the draft contract and list of costs obtained by The Post — add a new financial dimension to the roiling investigation into a presidential slaying that has upended the fragile Caribbean state, leaving it rudderless amid a leadership squabble. Haitian and Colombian authorities, along with the FBI and Interpol are scrambling to unravel a cast of suspects that they say includes a former Drug Enforcement Administration informant nicknamed “Whiskey,” an opposition politician, Colombia mercenaries and Haitian Americans from South Florida.
Haitian police on July 11 arrested Christian Emmanuel Sanon, who they suspect was a mastermind behind the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse on July 7. (Reuters)
A statement issued by an attorney for Veintemilla, Robert N. Nicholson, said Sanon approached his client for infrastructure funding and “expressed an intention to help bring about a peaceful change in the leadership of Haiti in order to improve the living conditions for Haitians.”
The statement said one of Veintemilla’s firms, Worldwide Capital Lending Group, “assisted in providing a loan to CTU” to back Sanon’s efforts, including by providing private security for him and “other Haitian dignitaries due to the ongoing violence in Haiti.”
“At no time during any meeting or conversation with Mr. Sanon or with any of his representatives was there any mention, discussion or suggestion of an assassination plot against President Moise or the intention to use force to bring about a change of leadership in Haiti.”
Nicholson also said the document obtained by The Post showing more than $865,000 in loans to Sanon was a “funding request.”
“I’m not saying none of these amounts weren’t paid. But it includes hundreds of thousands of dollars that were not provided,” he said.
The Post was able to corroborate some of the financial transactions in the list of costs through interviews with vendors, as well as details provided by law enforcement authorities about the travel of the Colombian ex-military personnel allegedly drafted for the plot and who are now either arrested, dead or on the run.
Intriago did not respond to calls and messages left at his business and two residential addresses. The Post could not identify an attorney for Sanon and relatives did not respond to voice mail and text messages.
There is no evidence in the contract obtained by The Post, or from people interviewed for this report, of an objective to kill the president. The person familiar with the meeting and contract, as well as Duverger, said that those at the meeting expected growing protests and public pressure would eventually force the Haitian president to resign.
Colombian President Iván Duque told a local radio station on Thursday that most of the Colombian nationals involved in the operation were told they were going as bodyguards, but that a smaller group of them had detailed knowledge of the planned assassination. He said the information was based on testimony from men who were recruited and did not ultimately go, as well as one man who had gone to Haiti and returned to Colombia before the killing, as well as family members of the men involved.
In announcing the detention of Sanon, Haitian authorities claimed that he was called by suspects fleeing the president’s home on the night of the July 7 assassination, and that Sanon in turn contacted two unnamed men whom Haitian police describe as “intellectual authors” of the assassination plot. Police have not announced any charges against Sanon. Colombian officials have said that at least two of its nationals, one killed by Haitian forces in the aftermath of the assassination and the other arrested — both former Colombian military personnel — had been in contact with Intriago’s CTU.
In a presentation on Wednesday, Haitian officials produced a photo that they claimed showed a meeting in the Dominican Republic, where Sanon, Veintemilla and Intriago sat at a table with other men. Authorities claimed, without providing detailed evidence, that the men were planning the assassination.
Haitian Police Chief Leon Charles has claimed that Worldwide “supposedly collected money so these guys could carry on with this criminal act, the assassination of the president.”
Charles at the news conference. (Orlando Barria/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)
According to a Post analysis of images found online, the photo that Haitian officials said depicted a meeting in the Dominican Republic appears instead to show a conference room in a building in Fort Lauderdale. Told of The Post’s findings, Mathias Pierre, Haiti’s minister of elections and interparty relations, said officials would look into the matter.
The lawyer for Veintemilla said representatives of Worldwide Capital Lending Group never attended a meeting in Haiti or Dominican Republic.
Duverger said Moïse — who had denied charges by human rights groups that he was linked to violent street gangs — was seen by Sanon as a “legal bandit” who was part of Haiti’s problem. But he said he was not aware of any plan for assassination, an act he described as a “barbaric crime.” Sanon had a clear ambition to lead Haiti, Duverger said, but “he did not explain how he was going to achieve that.”
“He didn’t give a timeline,” Duverger said, adding that he would not have participated in a discussion about a violent overthrow of the government. “Politics in Haiti [are] very murky. Haiti is a violent country.”
Just days after the Fort Lauderdale meeting, Sanon, Veintemilla and Intriago attempted to formalize a security plan, according to a different unsigned draft contract.
That draft, dated May 17, says Worldwide and CTU will provide “personal security protection” to Sanon, including assembling and training a team on “mission planning” and “convoy ops.” The person familiar with the security plan said the draft contracts obtained by The Post were authentic.
The contract describes CTU’s “extensive experience in military and law enforcement special operations,” including in Iraq, Bolivia and Colombia, plus other countries. “Drawing on a lifetime of experience in conventional and special operations warfare,” the contract states, “CTU has gathered a dedicated team” whose specialties include urban warfare, air assault and close-quarter combat.
The document was not signed — it had signature lines for Veintemilla and Sanon but not for Intriago because CTU was described as a subcontractor — and a later draft of the document, also obtained by The Post, was modified to add other details. A footnote in the contract also indicates that Worldwide “shall provide financing for startup operation” if requested by Sanon.
The person familiar with the meeting and some aspects of the security plan, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss confidential financial details, said the intention of the private security force was to protect Sanon, not to wage an offensive.
The person acknowledged, though, that Sanon and some of his associates hoped for a popular uprising in Haiti that would result in Moïse’s resignation.
Even as Sanon and the two firms worked to negotiate a formal agreement as the drafts suggests, they moved ahead to quickly assemble the private security force, a tally of costs shows.
On May 19, an airplane was chartered for $15,477, the first of three flights listed on a spreadsheet of expenses. It includes a $15,000 expense on June 3 for “screws and nails,” a term for ammunition, according to the person familiar with the security plan. There are expenses of $200,000 for “20 Personal Troops” the following day, as well as $26,485.00 for 20 flights.
A spreadsheet obtained by The Washington Post shows financial details of a security operation in Haiti totaling more than $860,000 for ammunition, equipment, transportation and accommodations for a security team. A lawyer for Walter Veintemilla, whose company provided financing, said the document was a “funding request” and that not all of the money was provided. (Handout)
According to Colombian authorities, a group of at least 11 of the Colombian nationals traveled to Santo Domingo from Bogotá on Avianca Flight 252 on the same date.
In late June, Sanon, Veintemilla, and Intriago were still trying to formalize a business arrangement, documents show. On June 22, an email copied to all three men contained the latest draft, now with references to the expectation that Sanon would take over the Haitian government. The email was sent from an address identified in the contract as Sanon’s.
The draft specified that the companies would deploy an undetermined number of private military officers to the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, within 72 hours of Sanon’s appointment as president, at weekly rates of between $1,500 and $3,000 per officer, the document shows.
“The Parties agree that the source of funding for amounts due to Consultant pursuant to this Agreement shall be from the proceeds of monetary assets seized by Haiti due to the efforts of Consultant and/or its Subcontractor,” it states.
According to the June 22 document’s metadata, it was originally authored by “walterv wwmlg.com” — which is the website for another of Veintemilla’s businesses, Worldwide Mortgage Lending Group. The last known edits to the document were made on June 22 by someone identified in the edit fields as “HLM,” the metadata shows. Haiti Lives Matter is the name of a website tied to Sanon.
Haitian police authorities say a raid of Sanon’s home in Haiti after the assassination uncovered a cache of ammunition, including about 20 boxes of 9mm and 12mm bullets, six pistol holsters, two cars and license plates from the Dominican Republic. They said Sunday that investigators also found a DEA cap.
In videos alleged to have been shot by residents near Moïse’s home on the morning of the assassination, at least one apparent assailant is heard shouting that the attack was a “DEA operation.” U.S. officials have strongly denied the claim that the DEA was involved, and Haitian officials dismissed the possibility.
A proposal for rebuilding projects
Sanon described himself as a physician and director of a philanthropic foundation that operated in Haiti and the Dominican Republican in a 2013 U.S. bankruptcy filing in Florida, court records show. He said his income was $5,000 a month.
A spokesman for the Florida Department of Health said the agency could not find any evidence that anyone with Sanon’s name was ever licensed to practice medicine in Florida. Sanon reported in the bankruptcy case that he was part owner of a humanitarian foundation called the Organization Rome Haiti, as well as an evangelical church and telecommunications company based in Tabarre, Haiti.
Duverger, a retired professor of economics at Broward College in Fort Lauderdale, said he had met Sanon in the United States through a mutual friend in 2016. Sanon, Duverger said, had become enamored of Duverger’s 30-year-plan to transform Haiti.
Duverger said he developed the plan as a result of his longtime goal of helping to revive Haiti’s economy and presented a version of the plan at the May 12 meeting with two firms and engineers and investors.
A draft of the plan obtained by The Post lacks technical detail and is largely a collection of maps and bullet points. It calls for sanitation projects, improved airports and seaports.
Sanon, in Zoom meetings in Haiti, had additionally sought to gather support for his prospective leadership from business leaders and others, Duverger said.
One of the vendors listed in the financial ledger obtained by The Post was Maxime Sada. Sada, during a recent Post interview while he was in Miami for medical care, said he’d met Sanon in October. A real estate agent brought Sanon to the Maxime Boutique Hotel in Port-au-Prince that Sada had been trying to sell, Sada said.
He struck a preliminary deal with Sanon, he said, in November, and said they had gone to a notary to formalize a $3.8 million offer. Sanon, Sada said, had booked “several rooms” at his hotel, portraying himself as an investor who had also recently purchased a hospital in Haiti. Sanon claimed that the people coming and going — including people Sada described as “foreigners” — were part of that hospital’s medical staff.
At one point, Sada said that Sanon spoke ill of Moïse — a controversial figure in Haiti, but whom Sada considered a “friend.”
“I told him, ‘Do not talk bad about the president,’ ” Sada said.
Sanon also mentioned that he wanted to be president of Haiti, Sada said. “I told him, ‘You know, people from overseas, the people, they will not want you.’ ” That was the first and last time we discussed it,” Sada said.
He said Sanon presented himself as a pastor. “Oh, he would pray, pray, pray during every meal, always praying,” Sada said.
As weeks went by, and Sanon was traveling between Florida and Haiti, Sada began to pressure him to make good on the down payment he had promised for the hotel — as well as pay off tens of thousands of dollars in room bills.
A June 26 email obtained by The Post from the hotel warns Sanon that “there will be no food & beverage served to your staff and services moving forward. We need a credit card if they wish to purchase anything. As you know by now your invoice has gone up.”
Sada said he had received two payments for hotel bills — for $5,000 on May 12 and $20,000 on May 19 — which conform with a payment log obtained by The Post. In May, he said, Sanon arrived at the hotel with Intriago, whom Sanon described as a business partner. Sada said he brought up what was then a $32,000 outstanding tab.
“Tony said not to worry; he said he would take care of it,” Sada said.
He said he kept pressing Sanon and Intriago to pay. He last heard from them, he said, in early July. [Tony] “said he was going on vacation on the fourth of July and ‘When I get back I will take care of the rest of the bill,’ ” Sada said. “But he never did.”
Sada said he was shocked when he heard that Haitian authorities had detained Sanon in connection with the assassination.
“I had no idea,” he said. “The president. He was my friend.”
A Colombian messages home
Whatever the goals of the operation, for the Colombian men recruited to enter Haiti, it thus far has meant capture, death or flight.
In early April in the city of Armenia, Duberney Capador Giraldo, a 40-year old Colombian military veteran, told his sister about a new job prospect. A contract had come through with a company providing security to important people in Haiti, she recalls him saying. It paid well, and the “mega-project,” he told his sister, Yenny Carolina Capador Giraldo, could even last a couple of years.
His sister helped him pack a suitcase — with shirts, pants, boots, sunglasses, a hat. On May 6, the day he departed, she gave him a big hug. “He left happy, with a suitcase full of dreams,” she said.
Duberney Capador Giraldo sent this selfie to his sister, Yenny Carolina Capador Giraldo, while he was in Haiti, she said. He is wearing a shirt embroidered with a CTU logo. (Courtesy of Yenny Carolina Capador Giraldo)
He traveled to Bogotá, then Panama, then to the Dominican Republic, flight records show. He sent his sister photos of himself near the ocean in Punta Cana, waves crashing onto the shore. Once he arrived in Haiti, on May 11, his sister said he seemed excited about the progress he was making with the project, she said.
He never mentioned his employer. But he had sent her a photo. In it, he is wearing a black shirt with CTU embroidered in white thread.
He told his sister about what seemed like typical workdays: signing contracts, organizing personnel and assessing work conditions.
Everything seemed normal, she said, until about the morning of July 7, when he sent her a WhatsApp message.
“They have us in a house,” he said. “They’re shooting at us. We’re trying to negotiate an escape.”
Haitian authorities now say he was one of three Colombian suspects killed in the aftermath of the assassination. But in his final hours, he had told his sister not to worry.
“This is what we were forged for,” he said.
He asked her to take care of their mother.
Alice Crites, Christine Armario, Ana Vanessa Herrero, Widlore Merancourt and Jenny Carolina González Camacho contributed to this report.