The Justice Department has charged the leader of a violent Haitian gang in connection with the kidnappings of 16 American Christian missionaries last year, officials said Tuesday. 

Joly Germine, 29, who is also known as "Yonyon," leads the 400 Mawozo gang and is the first person charged by federal prosecutors with having any involvement in the kidnapping. He was extradited to the United States last week and faces separate firearms tracking charges. 

"This case shows that the Justice Department will be relentless in our efforts to track down anyone who kidnaps a U.S. citizen abroad," said U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement. "We will utilize the full reach of our law enforcement authorities to hold accountable anyone responsible for undermining the safety of Americans anywhere in the world."

Hati kidnap arrest

Demonstrators march demanding peace and security in La Plaine neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, Haiti on May 6. The leader of a Haitian gang has been charged in the kidnapping of US missionaries. (AP)

A total of 17 people – 12 adults and five minors --were kidnaped on Oct. 16, 2021 after visiting an orphanage in Ganthier, just outside the capital of Port-au-Prince. Aside from one Canadian citizen, the group comprised Americans. 

Although he was imprisoned during the kidnappings, Germine directed the gang's operations, which included ransom negotiations, according to an indictment. One of his goals was to get the Haitian government to release him from prison. 

While in prison, Germine was in regular contact with the captors, the Justice Department said. 

Twelve of the captive missionaries escaped during a daring overnight caper, eluding their kidnappers and walking for miles over difficult, moonlit terrain with an infant and other children in tow. The group navigated by stars to reach safety after a two-month kidnapping ordeal, according to officials with the Christian Aid Ministries, the Ohio-based agency that the missionaries work for.

Merrick Garland

U.S Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks during the U.S. Conference of Mayors winter meeting in Washington, D.C. (Photographer: Eric Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Their captors initially demanded $1 million for each hostage, prosecutors said. It was not clear if any ransom was paid. 


The 12 hostages who escaped were flown to Florida on a U.S. Coast Guard flight, and later reunited with the five hostages who had been released earlier.

He is expected to appear in federal court Wednesday

The Associated Press contributed to this report.