Vladimir Jean-Baptiste of Pompano Beach, Florida was arrested after authorities from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms accused him of smuggling guns into Haiti, according to news reports. Jean-Baptiste, 40, was booked into Broward County Jail on federal charges of conspiracy to smuggle firearms from the U.S, sources indicate. He was denied bail bond, patially on the basis that he poses an international flight risk. It remains unclear whether Jean-Baptiste has retained a private criminal defense lawyer.
Investigators reportedly detained Jean-Baptiste on May 31 after he returned from a trip to Haiti. Jean-Baptiste, who is Haitian but is a legal permanent resident of the U.S. with addresses in both New York and Broward County, was apparantly arrested after federal prosecutrs found that he purchased 29 guns in South Florida since August 2009. Jean-Baptiste is suspected of illegally sending the guns, whch included shotguns and semi-automatic weapons, to Haiti, then flying to Haiti and re-acquiring them. It is not immediately clear where the allegedly smugled weapons are now, nor is it known whether the U.S. will attempt to reposess them.
Jean-Baptiste has purportedly made 22 separate trips to Haiti since 2009. He allegedly did this without declaring the weapons and by using deceptive means to get the guns through security, such as hiding them in dog food to throw off gun-detecting dogs. It is not known how exactly the investigations into Jean-Baptiste’s activities proceeded.
Although it is not entirely clear why Jean-Baptiste was allegedly smuggling guns into Haiti, he has reportedly claimend to have ties to the Haiti’s president and government. He told prosecuturs during an intitial hearing on Wednesday that he and a business partner were starting a security firm in Haiti and that the weapons were necessary for “arming his people,” according to a lawer involved in the case. One piece of evidence that seems to corolate with this claim is Jean-Baptiste’s Blackberry, which was reportedly provided by Haiti’s police and defense force. it remains unknown whether Jean-Baptiste holds an official position within the Haitian government and whether the alleged smuggling may have been carried out with the help of accomplices.
Federal prosecutors are reportedly alleging that Jean-Baptiste continued to illegally export firearms even after he was warned that it was not permissable under U.S. law. Shipping firearms reportedly violates several U.S. laws, including one banning the export of firearms to Haiti. Jean-Baptiste was apparantly interviewed in November 2010 in connection to smuggling firearms, but this allegedly did not deter him from continuing. Jean-Baptiste allegedly admitted to continuing to smuggle weapons after the interview.
It also appears as though Jean-Baptiste may have threatened a federal officer during the course of his arrest. One press report alleges that upon being arrested, Baptiste told officers that “they didn’t know who they were messing with because he was close to the president of Haiti” He also allegedly told one agent that his “world was about to come to an end.” No charges have been filed in regards to this alleged threat.