Dentist convicted of bribing Haitian officials gets new trial

By Melissa Busch, assistant editor

March 20, 2020 -- A dentist in Maryland and an entrepreneur have won a retrial after being convicted in 2019 of conspiring to bribe Haitian officials in exchange for approving a proposed approximately $84 million project on the Caribbean island.

A U.S. judge on March 11 ordered a new trial for John Baptiste, DDS, a retired U.S. army colonel, and Roger Boncy due to ineffective legal representation. They were denied their motion for an acquittal on the same grounds, according to an order issued by Judge Allison D. Burroughs of the U.S. District Court of Massachusetts.

Dr. Baptiste's attorney, Donald LaRoche, failed to "meaningfully review discovery," which included documents, audio and video recordings, and transcripts of those recordings, prior to trial. LaRoche acknowledged during an evidentiary hearing on January 14, 2020, that Baptiste's trial was his "first actual full-blown trial."

"In combination with the other errors identified herein raises a 'reasonable probability' that defendant Baptiste was prejudiced by the deficiency," the judge wrote.

In 2018, Dr. Baptiste, the founder and chairman of the Maryland-based nonprofit National Organization for the Advancement of Haitians, and Roger Boncy, a dual U.S.-Haitian citizen who resides in Spain and a member of the nonprofit's board, were charged with bribery offenses.

On June 20, 2019, the pair was convicted of international bribery offenses following an eight-day jury trial in U.S. Dr. Baptiste and Boncy were convicted of conspiring to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and the Travel Act. Jurors also convicted Dr. Baptiste of a substantive violation of the Travel Act and conspiring to commit money laundering. Each faces multiple years in prison.

The pair had no problem using illegal means to funnel bribes to senior government officials in Haiti, said Joseph Bonavolonta, a special agent in charge of the FBI's field office in Boston, following their conviction.

"Every dirty dollar they were trying to secure undermines those who are trying to conduct business lawfully," Bonavolonta said at the time.

Boncy and Dr. Baptiste solicited bribes from undercover FBI agents who posed as potential investors in connection with a proposed project to develop a port in the Mȏle St. Nicolas area of Haiti, according to evidence presented at their trial.

The approximately $84 million proposed project included building cement factories, a shipping-vessel recycling station, an international transshipment station with numerous slips for shipping vessels, a power plant, a petroleum depot, and tourist facilities.

Prosecutors also presented evidence of a meeting between the pair and U.S. agents at a hotel in Boston. Boncy and Dr. Baptiste told the agents that they would channel the bribes through the dentist's nonprofit, which aimed to help the poor living on the Caribbean island, to secure the Haitian government's approval of the project.

Other recordings played discussed Boncy and Dr. Baptiste promising a high-level elected official in Haiti with a job on the port development project if he could help get the project approved. Additionally, the men told agents they planned to bribe Haitian officials at all government levels, and that they would conceal bribes by falsely earmarking them for social programs.

Copyright © 2020

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