July 15th, 2008
09:48 AM ET

Face to face with murder, torture and mortgage fraud

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/07/15/art.constant94.jpg caption= "Emmanuel "Toto" Constant in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, 1994"]

Susan Chun
AC360° producer

When we entered the maximum security prison in upstate New York, we were ordered to take off our jackets, empty our pockets, and stow our belongings in a locker before entering the facility.  We were not allowed to bring anything with us, not even a pen and paper.  The guards told us it was for our own safety, because many inmates at the Coxsackie Correctional Facility were dangerous criminals, convicted murderers.

The inmate we were meeting, however, was awaiting trial, not for murder or rape or assault, but for mortgage fraud.  Why would a man on trial for mortgage fraud be held in a maximum security prison?  Because this inmate is Emmanuel "Toto" Constant, former leader in Haiti, and many say, a power hungry dictator responsible for the rape, torture and murder of thousands of Haitians.

Constant rose to power in the 1990s after the fall of Jean Bertrand Aristide.  He led the FRAPH, what he called a "political party" but is called a "death squad" by human rights groups. He fled Haiti in 1994 after Aristide came back to power and lived freely in the United States, despite Haitian trials convicting him in absentia of human rights abuses.

The charges against him are numerous and horrific.  But Constant met with us to explain his side of the story, why he says he is a patriot who loves his country, why the charges against him are false, and why he feels this mortgage fraud trial is a way to punish him for allegations from his past in Haiti.

We waited more than half an hour before the guards brought him to the waiting area.  I was eager to meet this man whose face and name I’m told inspires fear in Haitians even to this day.  I read a story about a Haitian woman who saw Constant on a New York City subway when he first moved here and she fainted in fear.

When he finally walked into the room, Constant smiled affably and was polite.  Almost immediately, he began explaining why he feels he’s being targeted in this case and why he’s been scapegoated for all of Haiti's many problems.  He was charismatic, a very fine storyteller and had an air of sincerity.  Whether that was real or a result of years of practice, it was hard to tell.

At the end of the visit he seemed almost regretful to leave us, and he agreed to meet us again for an on camera interview.  We’ll share his words with you.

Opening arguments in his trial began today, and Constant is expected to take the stand at some point in his own defense...  In defense of the mortgage fraud charges, that is.  We don't expect he'll talk much about rape, torture and murder.

Filed under: Crime & Punishment
soundoff (11 Responses)
  1. Jerry K. In Manhattan, KS

    This man should be held accountable for his crimes in his home land. So too, should he be held accountable here but AFTER there. This is providing that there is anything left of him after they finish.

    July 16, 2008 at 8:44 am |
  2. CC

    What a vague and not helpful story. I am left with no more real info than when I began

    July 15, 2008 at 4:28 pm |
  3. Teresa, OH

    He was charismatic, a very fine storyteller and had an air of sincerity...

    Arent these traits of every good sociopath?

    July 15, 2008 at 3:54 pm |
  4. solex

    Hope he rots there ! Too many like him in this world..

    July 15, 2008 at 1:53 pm |
  5. Jennifer

    I agree with Cindy, I think that Costant is like every other criminal and he sould be taken back to Haiti and let him get what is coming to him.

    July 15, 2008 at 1:14 pm |
  6. Annie Kate

    If the charges against him are true (rape, murder, etc) then I guess we should be glad we can try him on mortgage fraud – something is better than nothing. It won't be the first time in our history that we've convicted a known killer for crimes other than his most heinous acts – just think of Al Capone and his conviction for income tax evasion/fraud despite his ties with organized crime.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    July 15, 2008 at 12:01 pm |
  7. Tom

    Why hasn't Costant been sent back to Haiti to serve his time on crimes that he has already been convicted of? Why are we wasting tax-payer time and money and resources jailing this low-life. Everybody was screaming the other day about the man who ran to Serbia after beating a classmate. If we want to deal with our criminals why aren't we letting Haiti deal with theirs. How is he even living in this country?Can't he be deported just because he is a convicted criminal?

    July 15, 2008 at 11:42 am |
  8. jane

    It’s so scary how people responsible for horrible crimes can come off as almost “charismatic” in person.

    July 15, 2008 at 11:21 am |
  9. Kristen- Philadelphia, PA

    Child molesters know how to charm people to that hardly make them innocent. Interesting story, I doubt he is innocent because how can a whole country be afraid of you based on what lies and rumors? I wonder why he can’t be tried for the rape torture and murder. If he is tried for mortgage fraud and then convicted what kind of sentence does that get? Guess this will play out in court so keep us posted.

    July 15, 2008 at 11:08 am |
  10. Lols

    His name is "Toto"? Sounds harmless to me. I wonder if he would let me carry him in a basket down the yellow brick road to Haiti?

    July 15, 2008 at 10:34 am |
  11. Cindy

    It seems like Costant is the same as any other criminal. Always blaming others and trying to make himself out to be the scapegoat or a good guy.

    What goes around comes around! He did horrific things to people and now he will get his!


    July 15, 2008 at 10:01 am |