WASHINGTON – Three Haitian men were sentenced to 15 years in prison Friday for kidnapping an American teenager and her Haitian classmate for ransom.
The victims, identified only by their initials, were taken in May 2006 by gunmen who hijacked their driver on their way to school in Port-au-Prince. A third target, also a U.S. citizen, eluded capture when the American who was taken warned her not to come out of her house because they were being abducted.
The two girls were held for three days while the kidnappers negotiated with the American's grandfather for ransom. Prosecutors said their abductors, members of a Haitian Gang called Delmas, targeted Americans because they believed their families would pay more in ransom than Haitians. They say the men originally demanded $200,000 and threatened to kill the girls if they were not paid, but ended up settling for an undisclosed amount that was much less.
The defendants -- Jean Claude Ceide, Wesly Ducastin and Polynice Wadner -- pleaded guilty in May to conspiring to kidnap American citizens. They agreed to the 15-year sentence as part of their plea to avoid a possible life sentence.
Kidnappings were once rare in Haiti but became widespread following the 2004 rebellion that sent former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide into exile. U.N. peacekeepers say abductions have since tapered off with the arrest and capture of many gang leaders.
Some in the impoverished nation saw ransoms as a way out of poverty. Prosecutors said one the defendants was paid $20 for his role.
The three men were captured a few days after the kidnapping and imprisoned for a year and a half in Haiti. An FBI agent who visited the prison described deplorable conditions of filth, disease and overcrowding, with prisoners only receiving one meal a day, wearing the same clothes they were arrested in and receiving little if any medical care.
The men agreed to be extradited to the United States to face charges.
All three, when asked if there was anything they wanted to say before sentencing, asked through an interpreter not to be sent back to Haiti. U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan told them they will face deportation after serving their sentence, but it's possible they could be sent to another country if they have relatives elsewhere.
The men will get credit for the more than three years they have already served in Haiti and the United States. They were also ordered to share responsibility for paying $16,100 in restitution to a victim, though court papers did not specify the victim's identity.
Sullivan said she deserves much more because her life will never be the same after the trauma she suffered. Sullivan, reading from a statement that the victim submitted to the court, said nightmares keep her from sleeping and she is scared to leave her home.
"She's suffering and will probably be suffering for the rest of her life," the judge said. He wished the three men luck in turning around their lives after they serve their time.