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Haitian strongman convicted of mortgage fraud in U.S.

  • Story Highlights
  • Emmanuel Constant could face 15 to 45 years in prison for New York scheme
  • Constant has been accused of leading Haitian death squads in 1990s
  • "There has to be some penalty that he has to pay for what he did," attorney says
  • Constant denies accusations against him; his attorney says politics to blame
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(CNN) -- A man once convicted of heading up a ruthless Haitian death squad that is blamed for raping and killing political rivals has been convicted of carrying out a mortgage fraud scheme in the United States.

Emmanuel "Toto" Constant, 51, former leader of the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti, or FRAPH, was convicted Friday of arranging millions of dollars in fraudulent financing for three Brooklyn properties, according to a statement from the New York attorney general's office.

"Emmanuel Constant will no longer be a menace to our society," Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said in a statement. "Constant is going to jail for harming New Yorkers through an elaborate mortgage scheme. Until he was arrested for mortgage fraud, this lifelong criminal and former leader of a notorious Haitian death squad was living freely in New York."

Constant could face from 15 to 45 years in prison at his September 10 sentencing, according to the attorney general's office.

The U.S. State Department has accused Constant of atrocities in Haiti when he founded FRAPH after the fall of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1993.

"There has to be some penalty that he has to pay for what he did and how he destroyed so many lives," said Jennie Green, a senior attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights, who monitored the trial.

Human rights groups say that Constant's organization was little more than a death squad targeting Aristide's followers. As FRAPH's front man, Constant approved the torture, gang rape and killing of thousands of Haitians, according to declassified State Department documents and files from the United Nations.

"A high level of human rights abuses continued for the first nine months of the year [1994], including political and extrajudicial killings by the security forces and their allies, disappearance, and politically motivated rapes, beatings and other mistreatment of citizens," one declassified State Department document says.

Constant, however, has denied the allegations of abuse against him. He dismissed the State Department documents as "hearsay" and told CNN that his role in the organization has been widely misconstrued.

"Haiti for me is a country that I love, and I love the people so much," he told CNN in a prison interview before his conviction. "I'm not saying that I was more of a humanitarian; I was a political leader, fighting for a cause."

That cause, he said, is "democracy, the right for people to have a better life."

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Constant has been in the United States since Aristide's return to power in 1994. A Haitian court tried and convicted him in absentia for the 1994 Raboteau massacre that left dozens of unarmed members of the opposition dead.

However, the U.S. government did not enforce a 1995 federal deportation order.

Constant denied knowing about the massacre until after he arrived in the United States, and his attorney, Samuel Karliner, pointed out that his client was not represented by an attorney in court.

"If and when he returns to Haiti, he'll be granted a new trial," Karliner said. "If Haiti is the wrong place for his trial, then The Hague would be the right place."

Green, the Center for Constitutional Rights attorney, believes the reason why Constant was never extradited to Haiti is more cynical: that he once was involved with the CIA.

CNN has confirmed that Constant for a time provided intelligence to the agency in exchange for small sums of cash. The CIA, however, says it "has never had any connections with the FRAPH organization whatsoever."

Past CIA connections, if true, haven't kept him out of court.

His conviction Friday is his second for mortgage fraud. On July 1, Constant finished serving two years in prison for his involvement in the theft of more than $1 million in mortgage funds from the sale of a Suffolk County home.

For the current charges, prosecutors said that Constant, as the Suffolk County branch manager for the New Jersey-based mortgage bank D&M Financial, arranged for false high appraisals for the three properties, then arranged for a "straw buyer" to buy the overpriced homes. He and his collaborators pocketed the proceeds of the fraudulently obtained loans.

Karliner said he believes his client was brought to trial for political reasons.

"He was a little disappointed," Karliner said.

CNN's Jason Carroll, Ekin Middleton and Mythili Rao contributed to this report.

All About HaitiJean-Bertrand AristideCenter for Constitutional Rights

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