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Key Colombian suspect who gave orders in plot to kill Haiti’s president to plead guilty

A retired Colombian army officer who goes by the name “Colonel Mike” is scheduled to plead guilty Thursday to conspiracy charges in the killing of Haiti’s president, paving the way for his role as a central witness for the U.S. government in its assassination case in Miami.

If his change of plea, first reported by the New York Times, goes as planned in federal court, it would mark a turning point because Germán Alejandro Rivera Garcia is expected to provide details about the team of Colombian commandos suspected of carrying out the assassination under his leadership and about possibly other key figures in Haiti and South Florida implicated in the deadly plot.

Rivera, who was transferred from Haiti to U.S. custody in February, would be the second defendant to plead guilty and cooperate with U.S. authorities out of the 11 currently charged in Miami with conspiring to kill or play supporting parts in the shocking assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse on July 7, 2021.

Rivera, 45, would face up to life in prison if he pleads guilty to the main charge of conspiring to provide support, along with related offenses, to kill Moïse. But if he supplies credible evidence about other defendants charged in the case or about other suspects still in Haitian custody, Rivera could eventually see his life sentenced reduced by some measure.

Rivera’s defense attorney, Mark LeVine, did not respond to a request for comment. The U.S. Attorney’s Office also declined to comment about Rivera’s planned change of plea, which was filed in the federal court record.

The other defendant who pleaded guilty to the murder conspiracy is Rodolphe “Dodof” Jaar, 51, a previously convicted drug trafficker in the United States who was sentenced in June to life in prison but is hoping to get his prison term decreased with cooperation. A businessman with dual Haitian and Chilean citizenship, Jaar admitted to providing weapons, lodging and money in the conspiracy to assassinate Haiti’s president. He pleaded guilty to three counts of conspiring to provide material support, providing material support, and conspiring to kidnap and kill Moïse.

READ MORE: How a Miami plot to oust a president led to a murder in Haiti

Separate Haitian, Colombian and U.S. investigations into Moïse’s death were launched shortly after the assault that left the 53-year-old president with 12 bullet wounds and his wife, Martine, seriously wounded. More than 40 people have been jailed in Haiti, including 18 Colombians, as well as members of the Haitian presidential guard accused of taking bribes to stand down or not show up to work on the day Moïse was killed.

After refusing to cooperate with Haitian authorities after their initial testimonies to police, two of the jailed Colombian suspects in Port-au-Prince finally went before the investigative magistrate Walther Wesser Voltaire late last month to be interrogated behind closed doors. Voltaire is the fifth judge to be in charge of the Haitian case, which has moved very slowly due to concerns about safety, the ongoing gang violence and the refusal of suspects to cooperate even when they do appear.

The two-story building with bullet holes where a shootout with Colombian soldiers and Haitian police took place after the July 7, 2021, assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse.
The two-story building with bullet holes where a shootout with Colombian soldiers and Haitian police took place after the July 7, 2021, assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse.

Voltaire has yet to bring any formal charges against any of the suspects in Haiti who are being held either at the National Penitentiary or at a second prison in the suburbs of Croix-des-Bouquets. While U.S. authorities have issued a gag order on their case, preventing the sharing of information with anyone other than the defendants and their attorneys, Rivera’s cooperation could help provide a breakthrough in Haiti, where suspects have been languishing in prison for two years.

The deadly plot revolved around suspects collaborating in South Florida, Haiti and Colombia to kidnap and then kill Haiti’s leader, with the goal of replacing him with a new president and obtaining Haitian government contracts, according to authorities. So far, however, no one has been identified as the mastermind who orchestrated Moïse’s killing, resulting in a list of suspects who U.S. authorities say played major and minor roles in the deadly plot.

The FBI-led investigation escalated in February with the transfer of Rivera and three Haitian Americans to U.S. custody. Jaar and two other suspects were transferred to the United States after being picked up in the Dominican Republic and Jamaica. The others were arrested at their homes in South Florida and Tampa.

Rivera and two Haitian Americans were accused of helping coordinate a failed kidnapping of Moïse to remove him from office upon his return from a state visit to Turkey in June of 2021. The same three were also accused of conspiring in a final plan to kill him at his home in the hillside suburbs of Port-au-Prince the following month.

Those suspects are: James Solages, 37, who quit his job at a South Florida nursing home to go work for a Miami-area security firm linked to the plot to remove Moïse from office; Joseph Vincent, 57, a former Drug Enforcement Administration confidential informant who lived in South Florida; and Rivera, the retired Colombian colonel who is one of the alleged leaders of the deadly attack.

Also transferred with them to Miami: Christian Emmanuel Sanon, 64, a Haitian doctor and pastor who split his time between the United States and his Caribbean homeland and wanted to replace Moïse as president. Sanon, who was not implicated in the main conspiracy case to kidnap and kill Haiti’s president but faces related charges, fell out of favor with the group as a possible successor to Moïse in the weeks before his assassination.

According to an indictment, Vincent, Solages, Rivera and another Colombian commando also in U.S. custody, Mario Antonio Palacios Palacios, participated in the mission to kill Moïse at his home.

“On or about July 7, 2021 [Solages, Vincent, Rivera and Palacios] and other conspirators traveled in a convoy of vehicles to President Moïse’s residence to conduct the operation against President Moïse,” the indictment states. It’s the only reference to Rivera in the narrative part of the indictment.

Rivera was in charge of the Colombians, along with Duberney Capador Giraldo, who was among three Colombians killed by Haitian police in the immediate aftermath of Moïse’s assassination. In recorded witness statements made to Colombian law enforcement after the assassination and leaked to Colombian TV station Caracol, Rivera claimed the order to assassinate Moïse came from Joseph Felix Badio, the Daily Beast first reported. Badio, who remains on the run and in hiding in Haiti, is a Haitian functionary who was close to the president and his wife, and had been fired from the country’s anti-corruption unit months before the killing.

In carrying out their plot, some suspects used the cover of the United States, alleging they had backing from the United States and its agencies to target Moïse, who was increasingly the subject of anti-government protests at the time of his death. The Drug Enforcement Administration and Federal Bureau of Investigation have denied any involvement in the killing, as well as the Department of State.

The FBI probe, assisted by Homeland Security Investigations, has also focused on a Miami-area security company and its founder, Antonio “Tony” Intriago, who interacted with some of the suspects and has been charged in the murder conspiracy. Intriago’s attorney has maintained that he provided only bodyguard services for Sanon through his Counter Terrorist Unit (CTU) Security as part of Sanon’s presidential aspirations and knew nothing about a plot to kill Moïse. Badio once described himself as CTU’s representative in Haiti, a source who spoke to him before he disappeared told the Miami Herald.

Intriago’s associate at CTU, Arcángel Pretel Ortiz, who had been working as an FBI informant before the Haitian president’s death, was also charged in the murder conspiracy. Pretel Ortiz, a Colombian national and U.S. permanent resident of Miami, played a vital role in helping recruit some of the Colombian commandos for the deadly mission, according to court records.