NEW YORK — The U.S. Department of Justice on Monday announced criminal charges against seven Haitian gang leaders for the kidnappings of numerous U.S. citizens, including Christian missionaries and children.
The missionaries were part of a group of 16 U.S. citizens, most of whom were held captive for 61 days before escaping. The group included five children, the Justice Department said in a news release.
The Department of State announced a $1 million reward Monday for each of the three gang members who they say were responsible for that kidnapping: Lanmo Sanjou, aka Joseph Wilson; and Jermaine Stephenson, aka Gaspiyay, both current leaders of the 400 Mawozo gang; and Vitel’homme Innocent, leader of the Kraze Barye gang. All three have been charged with conspiracy to commit hostage-taking and hostage-taking.
The missionaries, who were serving near Port-au-Prince, were abducted on Oct. 16, 2021, the Justice Department said. Two of the hostages were released in late November and three more were released in early December. The remaining hostages escaped captivity in mid-December, the department said.
The United Nations estimates that gangs control about 60% of Port-au-Prince, acting with violence and setting homes on fire as they fight to control more territory in the wake of the July 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse.
The Justice Department also announced charges Monday against four leaders of three other Haitian gangs who prosecutors say kidnapped other U.S. citizens in the country.
Renel Destina, aka Ti Lapli, leader of the gang Gran Ravine, was indicted on charges of hostage taking for the 14-day kidnapping of a U.S citizen in February 2021.
“The victim was threatened daily at gunpoint, while his family scrambled to secure funds for release,” the Justice Department said. The victim was released on Feb. 16, 2021, after a ransom was paid.
Emanuel Solomon, aka Manno, a leader of the gang Village de Dieu, was charged with kidnapping a U.S. citizen in January 2021. The victim was held for about 11 days until his family and friends in the United States sent a ransom payment, the department said.
John Peter Fleronvil and Jean Renald Dolcin, two leaders of the gang Kokorat san Ras, were charged with the armed kidnapping of three U.S. citizens in July. Two of the victims were a married couple and a third was taken captive the day after and held in the same location. They were all released following ransom payments.