U.S. federal agents arrested four Florida men on Tuesday in connection with the July 2021 assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moise, bringing to 11 the number of defendants in the United States facing charges over the plot.
Following the early morning arrests, a federal grand jury in Florida returned a superseding indictment charging all 11 with a variety of crimes related to the brazen killing of Moise in his residence in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince on July 7, 2021.
The assassination, which was carried out by Colombian mercenaries allegedly recruited by a group of Haitians and Haitian Americans seeking to depose Moise, plunged Haiti into deep political turmoil.
Haitian authorities have made dozens of arrests in the case, but their prosecution has reportedly stalled in Haiti amid death threats to local judges.
U.S. authorities, concerned that the assassination plot was hatched on U.S. soil, have taken a more aggressive stance to arrest the perpetrators. Last month, Haitian authorities transferred four key suspects to the U.S. for prosecution. Among them: a Haitian American dual citizen who aspired to replace Moise.
The four men arrested Tuesday were identified as Arcángel Pretel Ortiz, a Colombian national and U.S. permanent resident of Miami; Antonio Intriago, a Venezuelan businessman and U.S. permanent resident of Miami; Walter Veintemilla, a U.S. citizen originally from Ecuador living in Weston, Florida; and Frederick Bergmann, a U.S. citizen living in Tampa.
In a criminal complaint, prosecutors said that Ortiz, who served as an FBI informant on unrelated matters, arranged a meeting between the FBI and other conspirators in April 2021 during which the conspirators attempted to draw FBI agents “into a discussion about regime change in Haiti.”
“In response,” the complaint said, “an FBI agent told the men, in substance, that the FBI could not help them because Haiti had to solve its own political problems.”
Prosecutors declined to elaborate on the FBI's relationship with Ortiz.
Lawyers for the four defendants, who were expected to make their initial court appearances on Tuesday, could not be immediately reached for comment.
Of the 11 alleged conspirators now in U.S. custody, nine are charged with conspiracy to provide material support and resources to a conspiracy to kidnap or kill outside the United States, resulting in death, as well as other related crimes. If convicted, they could face life in prison.
Bergmann and Christian Sanon, a Haitian American dual citizen at the heart of the conspiracy, face charges of conspiracy to commit export violations; submitting false and misleading export information; and smuggling ballistic vests from the United States to Haiti. If convicted, they could face up to 20 years in prison.
The federal investigation into the plot is ongoing, and prosecutors would not rule out further arrests in connection with the assassination.
The plot to depose Moise was hatched in early 2021 in South Florida, home to a large Haitian American community and “a central location” for planning and financing the conspiracy.
The four men arrested on Tuesday served as the South Florida-based “planners and financiers” of the plot, working in conjunction with “operators” and hired assassins in Haiti, said Markenzy Lapointe, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida.
Ortiz and Intriago are the owners of a South Florida security company called the Counter Terrorist Unit (CTU). Veintemilla, a resident of Tampa, owns Worldwide Capital Lending Group, also based in South Florida.
According to court documents, the conspirators met in south Florida in April 2021 to discuss “regime change in Haiti,” with Ortiz and Intriago agreeing to depose Moise and replacing him with Sanon. The plan was that once Sanon became president, “he would award lucrative contracts to CTU for infrastructure projects in Haiti, the provision of surety forces, and the provision of military-type equipment to a Sanon-led Haitian government,” Lapointe said.
For his part, Veintemilla and his company agreed to help finance what prosecutors called “the coup d’etat,” extending a $175,000 line of credit to CTU and sending money to other plotters in Haiti to purchase ammunition. “Veintemila expected to reap significant financial benefits through Worldwide should in fact President Moise be replaced as president, as did Ortiz and Intriago through CTU,” Lapointe said.
In the months that followed, the plan was set in motion. Ortiz and Intriago recruited a group of about 20 former Colombian soldiers to provide security to Sanon. Bregmann became an “investor” in the operation, Lapointe said, paying for the Colombians’ lodging in Haiti and shipping 20 CTU-branded ballistic vests to Haiti “by falsifying the required export documentation.”
By June, there was a change of plans. Realizing that Sanon “had neither the constitutional qualifications nor the popular support of the Haitian people to become President,” the conspirators shifted their support to a former Haitian Supreme Court judge. The judge, whom Lapointe declined to name, allegedly “contracted” with the two South Florida companies to serve their financial interests upon becoming president.
Around this time, the plot hit a wall. Plans to spirit Moise out of the country fell through when the men failed to obtain a plane and enough weapons for the operation. That prompted the conspirators to change plans from ousting Moise to assassinating him.
On July 6, the “boots on the ground,” as Lapointe called them, including a Haitian American named James Solages, met at a house near Moise’s residence in Port-au-Prince. Firearms and equipment, obtained by a Haitian national, were handed out, and an announcement was made by Solages. “That announcement was, unambiguously, that the mission was to kill President Moïse,” Lapointe said.
In the early morning the next day, the Colombian mercenaries stormed the president’s home and killed him. He was shot 12 times. Moise’s wife was shot multiple times during the attack but survived.
Lapointe said the latest arrests represent “a critical mass in terms of the people that were responsible in terms of the organizers and planners of this.”
“Without the thought process of saying we’re going to go out to Haiti and depose this president, at the end of the day, we’d not be here today,” Lapointe said.
Matt Olsen, assistant attorney general for national security, said the impact of the assassination continues to reverberate in Haiti. Noting that the men were arrested under U.S. laws prohibiting plots to kidnap and kill individuals abroad, Olsen said, “Let me be very clear: The United States will not tolerate those who would plot from our soil to carry out acts of violence abroad, just as we will not tolerate those outside the U.S. who would plot to conduct violence in this country,” Olsen said at the press conference.