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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

He kidnapped, killed U.S. citizens in Haiti. Wanted posters are up in South Florida

A billboard displayed on Bird Road in Miami on Friday seeks information on the whereabouts of Haitian gang leader Vitel’homme Innocent.   (Jacqueline Charles/Miami Herald/TNS)
By David Goodhue and Jacqueline Charles Miami Herald

MIAMI – Vitel’homme Innocent ordered the kidnapping of two U.S. citizens in Haiti last year, one of whom was shot and killed in the process, according to federal prosecutors.

A federal indictment unsealed this week says Innocent kidnapped Jean and Marie Odette Franklin from their Haitian home last October. Gang members killed Marie at the scene, and Jean Franklin was released days later after his family paid a ransom, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The 37-year-old gang leader was also named in a Haitian police report on the investigation into the July 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse. The report identified Innocent as one of the individuals who accompanied a former senator to rent vehicles for the plot.

The politician, Joseph Joël John, pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges this month in Miami federal court.

Law enforcement agents and prosecutors believe he is in that Tabarre neighborhood, part of the territory his Kraze Barye (Destroy the Barrier) gang controls.

But driving around South Florida recently, you may think federal agents are looking for him here. The FBI put up billboards all over the region asking for tips on Innocent’s whereabouts and offering a $1 million reward to those who provide information leading to his arrest.

Asked why, if agents believe Innocent is hiding in Haiti, they are putting up billboards and posters in Florida, FBI spokesman James Marshall told the Miami Herald that the campaign is “based on a well-defined investigative strategy which we are not at liberty to discuss.”

“As with all of our investigations, we adjust and refine that strategy based on the results of ongoing leads, which include information we receive through public outreach,” Marshall said. “We appreciate the public’s attention to our case and continue to encourage those with information, even if they’re not certain of its value, to come forward.”

Marshall also pointed to a recent statement from Jeffrey Veltri, special agent in charge of the Miami field office, saying that the FBI is committed to finding Innocent wherever he is.

“The indictment unsealed today demonstrates the FBI’s commitment to follow the evidence wherever it leads and to work our way up to the leaders of criminal plots wherever they are,” Veltri said. “Neither time nor distance will weaken our resolve. We will use all tools available and go to the farthest reaches of the globe to bring to justice those who seek to harm Americans.”

Innocent faces additional U.S. charges related to what prosecutors say was his role in the kidnapping of 16 American citizens in the fall of 2021.