Suspect in assassination of Haiti president tried to get FBI involved in ‘regime change’ plot
Feb. 15, 2023 Updated Wed., Feb. 15, 2023 at 11:47 a.m.
MIAMI — Arcángel Pretel Ortiz, one of 11 defendants accused in the plot to kidnap and kill Haitian President Jovenel Moïse, was so emboldened as an FBI informant that the Miami-area resident met with agents and promoted “regime change” in Haiti ahead of the brazen presidential assassination.
Ortiz’s FBI ties, first reported by the Miami Herald in a series about how the plot to overthrow Haiti’s president was partly rooted in South Florida, were laid out in a criminal complaint Tuesday charging him and two others with supporting a conspiracy to kidnap and kill the president of Haiti.
A fourth defendant, Frederick Bergmann Jr., is charged with conspiring to smuggle ballistic vests to former Colombian soldiers who allegedly carried out the deadly July 7, 2021, attack that left Moïse dead and his wife, Martine Moïse, seriously wounded.
Ortiz had his first appearance Tuesday in a Miami federal court along with his three co-defendants. The other two men are Antonio “Tony” Intriago, owner of Doral-based Counter Terrorist Unit Security, or CTU, which was an affiliate of Ortiz’s CTU Federal Academy LLC, and Walter Veintemilla, head of Miramar-based Worldwide Capital Lending Group.
Ortiz and Intriago “actually devised the plan to depose the president,” said Markenzy Lapointe, the U.S. attorney for South Florida.
“As part of the investigation, clearly law enforcement learned those things,” Lapointe said, addressing a question about what the FBI knew about Ortiz’s involvement in the plot. “But those were not things that law enforcement would have known prior to them happening.”
The use of U.S. law enforcement agencies, including the Drug Enforcement Administration, played a central role in the defendant’s scheme. A lawyer for two jailed defendants in Haiti previously told the Herald that several of the accused posed as federal agents in a meeting with his clients to discuss an elaborate U.S. government plan to bust drug trafficking Haitian government officials using FBI and DEA agents.
Not only was Ortiz involved in meetings “to discuss how to forcibly remove President Moïse,” according to the complaint, he even “arranged a meeting with the FBI by advising the FBI that those accompanying (him) had information to provide the FBI about terrorism.”
At the time, the complaint said, Ortiz was a “confidential source for the FBI” in a matter unrelated to the plot to remove Moïse. The complaint said Ortiz may have tried to use that pre-existing relationship and the meeting, which occurred around April 6, 2021, “to suggest to others that CTU was affiliated with the FBI and/or the Department of Justice.”
“It was not, and Ortiz did not disclose to the FBI [the] criminal conduct alleged herein,” the complaint said. “After the events … Ortiz was deactivated as a source.”
Ortiz, wearing a Tommy Hilfiger T-shirt, blue shorts and flip flops, used an interpretation device and spoke in Spanish Tuesday as federal Magistrate Judge Lauren Louis posed questions to assess his ability to pay for legal representation. Ortiz, a Colombian national who is a permanent U.S. resident, told Louis that he was a “shadow driver” for a hotel making about $1,800 a month plus an extra $1,000 with tips.
He does not own any land and has about $3,200 in savings, he said. His car is worth about $7,000 or $8,000.
Louis appointed a federal public defender to represent Ortiz, but federal prosecutors said they would appeal the decision.
According to the criminal complaint, Ortiz was referred to as “Colonel Gabriel” and was in constant communication with several of the suspects charged in the assassination plot, including James Solages, a Haitian American who had quit his job working for a nursing home in Palm Beach County to work for CTU Security, run by Intriago, Ortiz’s business partner.
At April meetings, CTU represented itself as being associated with the U.S. Justice Department and/or the FBI, the complaint said, “and took steps to falsely suggest the United States government sanctioned its operational plan.”
The lies didn’t stop there, the FBI said. Solages, the criminal complaint said, “falsely claimed that he had been in the U.S. military,” and Joseph Vincent, another suspect currently in U.S. custody, “wore a pin that created the false impression that he was affiliated with the Department of State and he also had fake CIA credentials.”
The criminal complaint notes that the plan to oust Moïse had focused on the presidential palace as far back as April 27, 2021, when Ortiz sent a text message to one of the suspects with a photo of a whiteboard with a drawing of the assault plan for the building. The plot later shifted to the president’s private residence in the Pelerin 5 neighborhood.
One reason may have been that in the final weeks he was alive, Moïse had stopped going to the palace, as he increasingly became concerned about an attack on his life, sourced previously told the Herald. He also got wind of a possible coup in the making, writing the name of Sanon and “coup” in a notebook that Haitian investigators found.
The plot gained momentum as the suspects exchanged text messages in coded language about weapons and the operation, which they referred to as “the party.” On June 20, 2021, according to the complaint, Solages texted Ortiz that they needed “10 DEA velcro patches” — the same patches that Solages and others wore during the deadly assault on July 7, when he falsely yelled out that the presence of armed men was a “DEA operation.” The day that Moïse was killed inside his bedroom in the hills above Port-au-Prince, Solages yelled through a bullhorn that the operation was a DEA sting, even though it was not. Haitian police later recovered DEA patches from the scene.
Solages, Vincent and two other defendants, Christian Emmanuel Sanon and German Rivera Garcia, were transferred from a prison in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, to Miami late last month. They have a scheduled arraignment on Wednesday in federal court. While Rivera is the alleged co-leader of the Colombian commandos accused of shooting Moïse, Sanon is the Haitian American pastor and physician who was in position to replace the president until two weeks before the killing. Solages mentioned that he lacked the constitutional requirements.
To be president of Haiti, one needs to live in the country for at least five years and hold no other nationality. Sanon held both U.S. and Haitian citizenship and lived in South Florida.
On Tuesday, during the first court appearance by the latest group of arrested suspects, all but Veintemilla, the Weston financier, received court-appointed attorneys.
Accused of paying for the airline tickets for the Colombian nationals to travel to Haiti, among other things, Veintemilla barely spoke in court. His lawyer, Tara Kudman, also quickly left the courthouse.
Intriago who for the past 20 months has had a private attorney, said he could no longer afford the fees. Wearing a plaid shirt, brown pants and brown boots, he initially had a translation device but then asked that it be removed and spoke in English.
“I used to have one,” Intriago, a Venezuelan national, said about his attorney, “but during the last year all my accounts were closed. I have no money.” Attorney Emmanuel Perez was appointed to represent him, but declined to comment on the case.
Asked about work, Intriago said he had become a Realtor and had worked “jobs here and there” during the last year but wasn’t making any significant amount of money. “Just enough to pay rent,” he said, remarking that he has made just about $5,000 so far this year.
While few details are public about the manner in which the arrests occurred, one detail did emerge during the questioning of Bergmann, who lives in Tampa and is listed on several companies with Sanon.
When asked if he had a lawyer, he told the judge, “I’m from Tampa. I don’t have any money. I don’t even have my license with me.”
He gets paid about $1,700 a month, he said, to take care of his parents, and receives about $1,800 in Social Security benefits. Bergmann said that he sold his business and is receiving $2,500 a month for the next four months from the sale.
A federal prosecutor told the magistrate judge that Bergmann was a flight risk. The prosecutor, Monica Castro, said that when federal agents went to arrest him, the businessman opened the door with a curtain rod in his hands and displayed “extreme agitation.”
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