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Posted Saturday, February 12, 2011

Man sentenced to 17 years in prison for defrauding hundreds of Haitian-Americans

By Jane Musgrave, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Franz Menardy put up $400,000 of his own money and persuaded family and friends to kick in another $100,000 with the promise that their investment would double in 90 days.

Jacques Bernard was so sure the investment club was legitimate that he, along with his sisters, cousins and brothers scraped together $350,000 convinced they would soon be rich.

The two men - Menardy from Delray Beach and Bernard from were among roughly 600 Haitian-Americans who lost as much as $14 million in the Delray Beach-based scam.

On Friday, the two joined about a dozen other victims of Homepals Investment Club to watch U.S. District Court Judge Kenneth Marra sentence Ronnie Bass to 17 years in prison for robbing working-class immigrants of their hard-earned money.

But neither the lengthy sentence nor the $3.9 million in restitution the 37-year-old Miramar man was ordered to pay brought relief to victims.

Few hold out hope that they will ever get any of their money back. Most are dealing not only with financial devastation but the acrimony of friends and family.

"This thing has messed up my whole family," Bernard told Marra.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan O'Quinn told of a man who invested $40,000 his father had saved from a lifetime of mowing lawns. Now, the son can't face his father.

Further, many of the victims have family members in Haiti who are still devastated from last year's earthquake. "They have no money to help their families because this defendant stole it from them," O'Quinn said.

Until Friday's hearing, Bass never showed any remorse. Then, in a rare move, he told Marra he wanted to change his no contest plea to guilty and admit responsibility for what he had done. He apologized to the victims. "I know your in hardship and I know the position I put you in," he said. "While they were suffering, I was leading the good life."

The victims scoffed. Facing more than 20 years in prison, the guilty plea helped him win a reduced sentence.

His attorney Robert Stickney argued that Bass should be sent to prison for 10 years. Two others involved in the scheme - Brian Taglieri, of Jupiter, and Abner Alabre, of Miramar - received 5-year sentences. The difference, O'Quinn said, was both cooperated with investigators. Taglieri alerted prosecutors of the scheme and was rewarded with having about 3 1/2 years shaved off his sentence.

Given the numerous frauds that target Haitian-Americans, O'Quinn urged Marra to impose a lengthy sentence.

"Right now, individuals are selling (bogus) notes in the Haitian community," O'Quinn said. "This defendant should be incarcerated for a significant period of time to not only refrain him but also to send a message to others, to let them know how serious this crime is."

Published by The Palm Beach Post - Friday, February 11, 2011.

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