MIAMI (AP) — A former Haitian rebel leader and recently elected member of the Senate in the Caribbean country was sentenced to nearly a decade in prison Wednesday after accepting a plea deal that spared him a life sentence for drug trafficking.
Guy Philippe declined to speak as he was sentenced to nine years by U.S. District Judge Cecilia Altonaga for money laundering and ordered to forfeit $1.5 million. His lawyers portrayed the sentence as a good compromise for their client.
"The government compromised their position by dismissing the more serious charges," said defense attorney Alan Ross. "We compromised our position by giving up our pretrial motions, by pleading guilty and by not going to trial."
Defense attorney Zeljka Bozanic said the agreement did not require Philippe to cooperate in any investigation of other Haitian officials as some in Haiti have speculated.
"I know there are people in Haiti who like to spin things and that there are politicians in Haiti who like to spin things," Bozanic said. "However, I can tell all those politicians that Mr. Phillippe is not cooperating. He's not snitching on anybody. He's not a snitch."
Philippe, 49, admitted in court in April that as a police commander in the city of Cap-Haitien he accepted between $1.5 million and $3.5 million from drug smugglers from 1999 to 2003. Prosecutors say Philippe and other police officers took the money in exchange for ensuring safe passage for cocaine shipments from Colombia and other countries that went through Haiti on their way to Miami and other U.S. destinations.
In 2004, Philippe led an uprising that ousted then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. He was indicted along with several others on U.S. drug charges in 2005, but managed to elude capture for more than a decade, including at least 10 attempts to arrest him in Haiti that involved a military operation and a foot chase through the countryside.
Philippe was elected to the Haitian Senate in November. He was arrested by Haitian police while giving a live radio interview in the capital of Port-au-Prince in January and whisked immediately to the U.S., prompting angry protests in his stronghold in southwestern Haiti.
Altonaga rejected his claim of immunity as an elected Haitian official. The judge noted even if immunity applied, Philippe had not yet been officially sworn in.
A small group of protesters, holding photos featuring a photo of Philippe with current Haiti President Jovenel Moise at a campaign rally, were outside the court in downtown Miami, hoping for a longer sentence. "He should get life in prison," said Toto Kompere, leader of a community group that supports the party of Aristide. "So many families are crying because of him."
Associated Press writer Ben Fox contributed to this report.