Elusive Haitian Strongman Arrested in Fraud Case

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An elusive former strongman from Haiti, accused of sanctioning rape to silence dissent there in the early 1990s, has been arrested in a mortgage fraud scheme on Long Island, authorities said.

Emmanuel "Toto" Constant, 49, was scheduled to be arraigned Friday on charges of grand larceny, forgery and falsifying business records, said Robert Clifford, spokesman for the Suffolk County district attorney.

CountryWatch: Haiti

The indictment accuses Constant and five co-defendants of defrauding a bank out of more than $1 million.

"We're thrilled that he's in custody, and we're also concerned he's a flight risk," said Moira Feeney, an attorney with the San Francisco-based Center for Justice and Accountability, which brought a federal suit on behalf of three woman who claimed they were gang-raped in Haiti in the 1990s.

She said prosecutors want Constant held without bail based on his notorious history in his native land.

The district attorney's spokesman did not have a name for Constant's attorney, and there was no telephone listing for him in New York.

Constant emerged as the feared leader of a right-wing paramilitary group, the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti, after President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's presidency was toppled in 1991. Human rights groups say that between 1991 and 1994, the group terrorized and slaughtered slum-dwellers loyal to Aristide.

In 1994, Constant slipped into the United States. He has been living in exile in New York, reportedly sometimes staying at the home of an aunt while working as a mortgage broker.

Despite a 1995 deportation order, he has been allowed to remain because Haiti's judicial system hasn't stabilized enough to ensure a fair trial.

A Haitian court convicted him absentia and sentenced him in 2000 to life in prison.

Lawyers for the women who claim they were gang-raped have asked a U.S. District Court judge to enter a default judgment against Constant. He was served a complaint in January 2005 but ignored it and hadn't even hired a lawyer, they said. A hearing is scheduled next month.