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28581: Durban (Pub): NY TImes on Emmanuel Constant Arrest (fwd)

L. Durban (lpdurban@yahoo.com) posts by-lined article
from NY Times of July 11, 2006:

To His Compatriots? Relief, Haitian Exile Is Arrested
Like many of his neighbors, Emmanuel Constant left behind tumult in his
homeland, Haiti, and found a more stable life in New York City.

The change was good. He became a real estate agent and lived in a
spacious white house in Queens.

But Mr. Constant kept his nickname ? Toto ? a name that continues to
stir fear and hatred among many Haitians, who know him as the man who
in the early 1990?s ran a paramilitary group that human-rights groups
say raped, tortured or killed thousands to silence loyalists of the
deposed president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

For many Haitians here, Mr. Constant?s unapologetic attitude and his
success in America simply added to the horrors he was accused of.

?Toto has blood dripping from his hands, and he has been living his
cocky lifestyle in the middle of New York?s biggest Haitian community,?
said Ray Laforest, 59, a Haitian immigrant living in Flatbush.

?For us, this just reinforces the deeply painful and unjust history of

Mr. Laforest and many other Haitians were surprised last week when Mr.
Constant finally was arrested, not on charges relating to his past, but
in connection with a mortgage fraud scheme on Long Island.

He was arraigned on Friday in State Supreme Court in Riverhead on
charges including grand larceny. Attorney General Eliot Spitzer?s
office said that Mr. Constant, 49, and five others defrauded banks out
of more than $1 million in loans by using straw home buyers and
inflated appraisals.

The attorney general?s office said Mr. Constant played a role in
recruiting one of the straw buyers and in forging a bank statement that
the bank relied on in giving a loan. The prosecutors said Mr. Constant
was paid $45,000.

A lawyer for Mr. Constant, Edward R. Palermo of Smithtown, said Mr.
Constant was pleading not guilty to the financial charges, but added
that he knew little of his client?s past in Haiti, or his immigration

?They want to make my client?s political past in Haiti the background
of the case, for publicity and to prejudice the judge to set a high
bail, when it really has nothing to do with these charges,? he said.

In a memorandum to the judge, Mr. Spitzer?s office called Mr. Constant
a flight risk, and because of his association with ?a violent
paramilitary organization,? urged that he be held without bail, or that
bail be at least $2 million.

Acting State Supreme Court Justice Michael F. Mullen set it at $50,000.
But even if Mr. Constant posts bail, he is to be turned over to federal
immigration officials, who have orders to detain him, said Chief Alan
Otto of the Suffolk County Sheriff?s Office. The Immigration and
Customs Enforcement bureau would not give any details about Mr.
Constant?s status.

He fled Haiti when Mr. Aristide returned to power in 1994. Immigration
officials here detained him but ultimately decided not to deport him
after Mr. Constant insisted that Haiti?s unstable justice system would
put him to death.

In 2000, Mr. Constant was convicted in absentia by a Haitian court for
his involvement in a 1994 massacre, and he was sued recently in federal
court on behalf of three women who said his soldiers beat and
gang-raped them, under a ?systematic campaign of violence against

It has always been a sore point with New York?s Haitian immigrants that
Mr. Constant has been allowed to live in exile here, said Kim Ives, a
journalist who has written extensively about Mr. Constant in the New
York Haitian press.

?If people weren?t so afraid of him, he would be attacked the minute he
walked on the street here,? he said.

But, Mr. Laforest said, ?Mentally, Haitians are still terrified of
Toto; they?re afraid his friends will have their house firebombed.?

Mr. Constant remained on the margins of the Haitian community and would
rarely walk in Haitian neighborhoods, both his friends and his enemies

But his distinctive face and 6-foot-4-inch frame made him easy to pick
out. He was seen with friends at nightclubs and would appear alone at
voodoo ceremonies. People would stare and whisper about Toto and the
mass killings and rapes in Haiti committed by his band of guerrillas, a
group known as Fraph and translated variously as the Front for the
Advancement and Progress of Haiti.

There was the woman at a train station, Mr. Laforest said, who nearly
fainted after recognizing him from his newspaper photograph. There was
a time Mr. Constant approached a Haitian man who was selling a house,
who told Mr. Constant he looked familiar. Upon learning his name, he
stood agape, and Mr. Constant quickly left.

For the past 10 years, Mr. Laforest has organized occasional
demonstrations in front of Mr. Constant?s home in Laurelton, Queens, at
his offices, and at the location in Manhattan where Mr. Constant
checked in weekly with immigration authorities.

?People were afraid that he was still a killer, but there were times I
had to literally hold people back from rushing into his office and
attacking him,? Mr. Laforest said.

In the last couple of years, as the protests intensified, Mr. Constant,
his companion and their young child began moving between Queens,
Flatbush, New Jersey and Long Island, said Fritz Cherubin, a friend of
Mr. Constant who runs a business providing notary, fax and other
clerical services to immigrants.

Yet many Haitians would not dare physically or even verbally attack Mr.
Constant because of his dangerous reputation in Haiti and his continued
connections with the old backers of his violent paramilitary
organization, others said.

Giroboam Raphael, who owns a record store on Flatbush Avenue, said, ?So
many Haitians were afraid to do anything to Toto because he seemed

?Toto always claimed he was working for the U.S. government in Haiti,
so we all thought he was out of reach of the law,? Mr. Raphael said.
?It?s strange that, with all the horrific things he did in Haiti, they
arrested him for mortgage fraud.?

Olisha Baptiste, 38, of Ditmas Park, said he saw Mr. Constant at voodoo
ceremonies in Brooklyn, which consisted of drumming, prayer and
consultation with spirits.

?It was always uncomfortable for me and the others that, ?My God, it is
Toto Constant sitting here,? ? Mr. Baptiste said. ?This is one guy
nobody wanted to be associated with, but no one ever said anything. We
welcome everyone, and also we were afraid of his background. We all
know what he is capable of doing. He is untouchable.?

?Maybe those ceremonies were a place he could venture into quietly,
just slip in and out without a fuss,? he added.

But he never shrank from his past, insisting he was a hero and boasting
of working as a C.I.A. informer and having powerful protectors, Mr.
Laforest and others said.

?He liked to talk to the press a lot and make himself look powerful,
but he never killed anybody,? said Mr. Cherubin, his friend. ?He?s been
running from people the past couple of years, but he?s not a bad man.?