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Posted March 22, 2008
                     
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CRIME-GRAND THEFT/RACKETEERING

Renowed Mutinous Haitian Coast Guard Commander Octave Cayard's Nephew Is Placed in Tight Handcuffs on Grand Theft and Racketeering Charges 

                        
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Miami-Dade Police arrested Ringo Cayard, a longtime Haitian-American activist and local political kingmaker on Thursday night. (CBS-4
                                                                               
An influential figure in Miami's Haitian community has been arrested on theft and racketeering charges.
                                         

By SCOTT HIAASEN

shiaasen@MiamiHerald.com

Ringo Cayard, a longtime Haitian-American activist and Miami-area political kingmaker, was arrested Thursday night on more than 20 charges of racketeering, theft and money laundering -- including charges that he used fake records of a social-service agency's board meeting to give himself a $300,000 bonus.

Cayard, the director of the Haitian American Foundation Inc., or HAFI, is also accused of siphoning thousands of dollars from Miami-Dade County contracts related to staging festivals and providing meals to the elderly.

Cayard's arrest by public-corruption detectives with the Miami-Dade Police Department caps a sweeping investigation of the foundation's finances over the past 2 years.

HAFI is one of the best-known social services agencies in Miami-Dade's Haitian community, and Cayard, 55, has long been its public face. The agency received nearly $2.9 million in county contracts and grants between 2002 and 2006, when county leaders cut funding after learning of the criminal probe.

Cayard -- the nephew of a mutinous Haitian coast guard commander who once shelled the palace of dictator ''Papa Doc'' Duvalier -- has been one of the most prominent voices in local Haitian politics over the past 25 years. He's been a political ally to Miami Mayor Manny Diaz and County Commissioner Dorrin Rolle, among others. Diaz placed Cayard on a city bond-oversight board.

Timing Questioned

Cayard's lawyer, Milton Hirsch, said he could not comment on the arrest warrant because he had not seen it. But he questioned the timing of Cayard's arrest, noting that Cayard had complied with past requests for records.

''To arrest him under cover of darkness on the eve of Holy Week is a disgrace,'' Hirsch said.

An arrest warrant describes Cayard as a tight-fisted administrator of HAFI's coffers, and it details crimes large and small:

Phony Records

Cayard is accused of using a forged check to pocket $500, and he's also charged with using phony records of a foundation board meeting to convince HAFI's paymaster that the board had approved a $300,000 bonus for him.

The minutes of the Dec. 9, 2004, HAFI board meeting, obtained by The Miami Herald, describe board members discussing a bonus for Cayard to reward him for negotiating the sale of a 2.4-acre lot for $2 million -- after HAFI bought the land with $210,000 in county and city grants.

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Ringo Cayard faces 20 charges of racketeering and money laudering. (Miami-Dade Corrections)

According to the minutes, board member Estanislao Carballo ''strongly recommended'' a bonus to Cayard, with the amount to be determined by the nonprofit's lawyer. But Carballo told police that the board only discussed giving Cayard a raise -- not a bonus.

Seven other HAFI board members also told detectives that they never approved the bonus, and the records of the meeting were fictitious.

The property on Northeast 79th Street was originally supposed to be the site of a Creole market -- a venture that died after just six weeks.

City and county officials have demanded that HAFI repay them the $1.8 million profit from the sale; HAFI has refused.

In the past, Cayard has said the money from the land deal went into HAFI's social-service programs. ''It's not like we turned a profit and went out and bought a Lamborghini,'' Cayard told The Herald in 2005.

HAFI's accountant, Juno Guevara, told detectives that the profits from the land deal were not ''in the books,'' the arrest report says. An independent auditing firm -- required under HAFI's county contracts -- said HAFI failed to disclose the income from the deal.

The arrest report also says Cayard orchestrated a scheme to bill the county for phantom meals HAFI was supposed to deliver to elderly Haitian residents under a contract with the county's Alliance for Human Services. Cayard and a HAFI employee submitted fake monthly invoices six times between April 2003 and January 2005 when his nonprofit failed to deliver any meals, the report says.

Mardi Gras Account

Detectives also said Cayard took $26,500 from the account of the Greater Miami Mardi Gras, an annual downtown music festival run by HAFI and paid for largely through county grants. HAFI received more than $1.4 million to stage the event from 2002 to 2006.

While some of the Mardi Gras money went into Cayard's pocket, investigators say, some of it was also used to buy political influence.

Detectives traced $3,500 from the Mardi Gras account to four Haitian radio hosts, who said Cayard paid them to support former Miami-Dade County Commissioner Jimmy Morales in his unsuccessful 2004 campaign for county mayor, the arrest warrant says.

Months before those payments, in February 2004, Morales gave HAFI a $20,000 grant from his commission discretionary account -- money earmarked for the Mardi Gras festival, county records show.

Morales could not be reached for comment late Thursday.

Discussed Payments

Cayard is also accused of using a festival worker to disguise payments he took himself.

The worker, Jean Michel Cherubin, told police he received $22,000 in checks from HAFI's Mardi Gras account and paid $17,500 of that back to Cayard in cash and cashier's checks. Police traced the money to bank accounts held by Cayard and his brother, the affidavit says.

Miami Herald staff writer Jacqueline Charles contributed to this report.

Copyright 1996-2008 The Miami Herald Media Company. Reprinted from The Miami Herald of Friday, March 21, 2008.

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