As highlighted in this prior post, in August 2017, in connection with an undercover sting, the DOJ announced that Joseph Baptiste (pictured – a retired U.S. Army Colonel, practicing dentist, and former founder/president of a Maryland-based Haitian focused non-profit) was criminally charged “for his alleged role in a foreign bribery and money laundering scheme in connection with a planned $84 million port development project in Haiti.”
Baptiste’s trial is scheduled to begin in early June and this post checks in on the enforcement action.
Recently, Baptiste filed a motion to suppress statements made to FBI agents and asserted that the statements were taken in violation of his rights guaranteed by the Fifth and Sixth amendments to the Constitution. In summary fashion, the motion states:
“On December 29, 2016, an undercover agent arranged a meeting with defendant, Dr. Baptiste at a restaurant in Miami, FL. At the conclusion of the meeting, the agent invited Dr. Baptiste back to his hotel room above the restaurant. Dr. Baptiste went to the agent’s hotel room and along the way back, the two had small talk. Upon entering the room, the undercover agent asked further questions about investing in Haiti and the process of gaining access to Haitian government officials. The entire time the undercover agent was wired with a recording device.
After being in the room for a few minutes, there was suddenly a knock on the hotel room door and the agent went over to open the door. Two individuals walked in the room, and the undercover agent proceeded to the bathroom, where he could be heard using the facility. The agent could be heard terminating his recording and then turned off the recording. No further recording for that date was provided in discovery, just handwritten notes dates December 29, 2015 were included.
The two agents questioned Dr. Baptiste in the room for about three to four hours, where they identified themselves by informing Dr. Baptiste that they were FBI agents investigating corruption in Haiti. They explained that undercover agents had been posing as private investors interested in development in Haiti. The agents also presented a search warrant for Dr. Baptiste’s cell phone.
The agents had a computer with them in the hotel room as they questioned Dr. Baptiste and used the computer to play previous recordings. After questioning Dr. Baptiste for several hours, he was finally allowed to leave, but the agents asked Dr. Baptiste if he would assist as a cooperator and they would draw up a cooperation agreement.
During this several hours of questioning, Dr. Baptiste was not free to leave and there was no indication that he was ever given his Miranda warnings.”
Baptiste is also objecting to the DOJ’s motion in limine regarding the admissibility of his previous plea agreement. In pertinent part, he argues.
“On July 22, 2016, Dr. Baptise reluctantly signed a plea agreement at the urging of his previous counsel, prior to any court involvement. In the absence of Dr. Baptiste, the government along with the FBI agents in this case met with previous counsel and negotiated a plea agreement. Dr. Baptiste was informed that the plea would be held under seal provided that he assisted or cooperated with the government as there was an active investigation still ongoing. He had to report his every movement to and from Haiti to an FBI agent throughout 2016-2017. During the summer of 2017, the FBI made it known to Dr. Baptiste that he was no longer needed in their investigation and his passport was seized.
On August 8, 2017 [Dr. Baptiste] terminated his relationship with his previous counsel after discussing with other attorneys the status of the case the government brought against him. Dr. Baptiste obtained undersigned counsel on August 8, 2017. Upon further consultation with undersigned counsel, Dr. Baptiste withdrew his plea agreement. Thereafter, on August 29, 2017, the FBI arrested Dr. Baptiste …”.
In addition, Baptiste recently responded to the DOJ’s: motion in limine to excluse arguments in support jury nullification; motion in limine to exclude evidence or argument of the port project’s alleged public benefit; and motion in limine to exclude evidence or argument about his charitable deeds. As to the later, Baptiste argues that the “jury should be allowed to hear rebuttal evidence demonstrating that Dr. Baptiste, whose benevolent work for the past three decades, did not need to bribe anyone in the Haitian government.”
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