A federal judge in Boston Wednesday ordered new trials for two FCPA defendants convicted by a jury last year of planning to bribe officials in Haiti, finding that one of their lawyers failed to provide effective counsel for his client.
Judge Allison Burroughs said in a 16-page ruling that defendant Joseph Baptiste was not adequately represented by lawyer Donald LaRouche. The judge said LaRoche’s “overall performance” did not live up to “prevailing professional norms.”
Judge Burroughs also granted a new trial for Baptiste’s co-defendant, Roger Richard Boncy. The judge said LaRoche’s inadequate performance caused Boncy’s lawyer to play “an outsized role” that resulted in prejudice to Boncy.
Boncy, 75, a dual U.S. and Haitian citizen who lives in Madrid, Spain, and Baptiste, 67, of Fulton, Maryland, were convicted in June 2019 after a two-week jury trial. They were each found guilty of one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA and one count of conspiracy to violate the Travel Act.
Baptiste was also convicted of one count of violating the Travel Act and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.
They allegedly solicited bribes from undercover agents posing as potential investors in a proposed $84 million port development project in the Mȏle St. Nicolas area of Haiti.
Boncy is the chairman of an investment firm and Baptiste is a dentist and retired U.S. Army colonel.
Wednesday’s ruling is another big setback for the DOJ’s FCPA Unit.
Two weeks ago a federal judge in Connecticut acquitted Lawrence Hoskins, 69, of all FCPA charges following a jury conviction. Judge Janet Bond Arterton ruled that despite the jury’s verdict on seven FCPA counts, the DOJ had failed to produce enough evidence to show that Hoskins, a former executive of Paris-based Alstom S.A., had acted as an agent of Alstom’s Connecticut subsidiary when he allegedly arranged bribes to officials in Indonesia.
Judge Arterton let stand Hoskins’ conviction on one money laundering conspiracy count, and three substantive money laundering counts. Last week Judge Arterton sentenced Hoskins to 15-months in prison for those convictions.
In her ruling Wednesday, Judge Burroughs said Baptiste’s lawyer didn’t subpoena any witnesses to testify on behalf of his client, didn’t adequately prepare for trial, and pursued an entrapment defense after being told the defense wasn’t available to his client.
The judge also said LaRoche, who’s based in Virginia, wasn’t familiar with evidence that might have helped his client. As an example, the judge cited this exchange between LaRoche and a government lawyer concerning a photograph that the DOJ discovered on Baptiste’s own phone:
MR. LaROCHE: “They said it was connected to a text message, but I haven’t been able to find that specific text message . . . .”
MS. RUBIN-SMITH: “Your Honor, this was all produced in discovery several times. . . . We also handed over a report from the undercover’s phone, and that report showed text messages and photos received from Baptiste’s phone. And that picture is also on that report. . . . it’s been handed over at least three times in three different ways.”
Two lawyers who are friends of Baptiste tried to help LaRoche during the trial. Husband and wife Jason and Arielle Hinton are attorneys who practice in Maryland. Ariell Hinton is a criminal trial lawyer with the Maryland State’s Attorney’s Office.
Her husband submitted an affidavit detailing LaRoche’s performance during the Baptiste trial. Judge Burroughs largely relied on that affidavit in reaching Wednesday’s ruling.
The judge scheduled a hearing for Baptiste and Boncy for March 18. She’s expected then to set a date for their new trial.