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Posted Thursday, July 16, 2009           

Haitian drug lord's sentence reduced
By Jay Weaver

A major Haitian drug trafficker who helped Miami prosecutors target corrupt officials in the government of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide received a large sentence reduction.

A big-time cocaine smuggler who gave the U.S. government an inside view of drug trafficking in the administration of former Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide saw his nearly 20-year sentence cut in half Wednesday.

Jean Eliobert Jasme's prison term was reduced to about 10 years by U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke, because federal prosecutors and defense lawyers jointly recommended it based on his ''substantial assistance'' in dozens of Miami trafficking cases.

Jasme -- expelled by Aristide in 2003, the year before the president's ouster -- became a central witness in the U.S. government's mission to slow the flow of cocaine from Colombia via Haiti to South Florida. Jasme contributed to at least 17 prosecutions of Haitian government officials, senior police officers and other cocaine smugglers -- with all but one ending in convictions.

Prosecutor Ben Greenberg lauded Jasme for providing incriminating information on a variety of trafficking suspects with ties to the Aristide government, but stopped short of naming the former president as one of them. However, Jasme's attorney, Paul Petruzzi, said that his client ''cooperated'' against the former president, who was forced from power and fled to South Africa in February 2004.

''It's no secret that Jean-Bertrand Aristide has been under investigation for drug trafficking and money laundering,'' Petruzzi said.

But federal authorities were never able to prove allegations that Aristide was paid millions of dollars by Haitian traffickers to allow them to use the country as a hub for shipping Colombian cocaine to the United States. Aristide, through his Miami attorney Ira Kurzban, always denied the allegations.

Since he was deposed five years ago, Aristide has not returned to his country.

Prosecutors were able to convict the official closest to Aristide, the former presidential security chief, Oriel Jean.

In 2005, he was sentenced to three years in prison because he gave federal investigators invaluable information on Haiti's drug underworld and the location of fugitives -- and even continued to testify after a cocaine smuggler threatened his life.

But Drug Enforcement Administration agents have not been able to capture Guy Philippe, a former Haitian police official indicted on trafficking charges in 2005 -- the year after he led the rebellion that caused Aristide's ouster.

Philippe, accused of accepting payoffs to aid Haitian and Colombian traffickers, has evaded at least three attempts to arrest him.
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