A Fulton dentist who is a longtime advocate for Haitian causes is one of two men who were convicted in a Boston federal court Thursday for conspiring to bribe senior Haitian officials in a scheme to gain business advantages in the Caribbean island nation.
Dr. Joseph Baptiste, 64, the founder and chairman of the National Organization for the Advancement of Haitians, a nonprofit based in Silver Spring, was convicted along with Roger Boncy, 74, a dual U.S.-Haitian citizen who lives in Madrid, of conspiracy to violate the Travel Act and the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, according to a report released by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Prosecutors said they committed the crimes in furtherance of an $84 million port development project the men were attempting to arrange in Mole-Saint-Nicolas in northwestern Haiti.
Baptiste was also convicted of one count of violating the Travel Act and one count of money-laundering conspiracy.
The verdict came at the end of a two-week trial in which prosecutors played for jurors recordings of the men speaking with undercover FBI agents who were posing as potential investors.
Baptiste and Boncy could be heard telling the agents they would funnel the agents’ payments to senior Haitian officials through Baptiste’s organization — a nonprofit that purports to help impoverished residents of Haiti — to secure government approval for the project.
The Travel Act makes it a federal offense to travel between nations with the intent of promoting an illegal activity, and federal Foreign Corrupt Practices Act makes it illegal for Americans or U.S. companies to pay foreign officials to win business.
“Richard Boncy and Joe Baptiste conspired to pay millions of dollars in bribes to Haitian officials to do business there,” Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division said, according to the report. “Today’s guilty verdict sends a strong message that those who use corrupt means to obtain unfair and illegal business advantages will be prosecuted to the fullest extent possible by the Department of Justice.”
The proposed project was to involve the construction of cement factories, a shipping-vessel recycling station, an international transshipment station, a power plant, a petroleum depot and tourist facilities, according to the report.
Baptiste, a retired U.S. Army colonel, established his nonprofit, commonly referred to as NOAH, in 1991, and has used it to channel aid to Haitians at moments of crisis, including in the aftermath of the earthquake that devastated the country in 2010.
He was a frequent visitor to Haiti and one of its diaspora’s most influential voices, according to an article in the Miami Herald, and hosted U.S. lawmakers and Haitian prime ministers at his home in Fulton, in southern Howard County, while serving as an informal adviser to the U.S. State Department officials on matters related to Haiti.
The money laundering conspiracy charge can bring a sentence of up to 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine, the Justice Department report said.
Each charge of violating the Travel Act and the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and conspiracy can bring a five-year sentence and a $250,000 fine.
The two will be sentenced in September.