By Bianca Silva
A multi-million dollar class action lawsuit involving former Haitian government officials has been filed in Brooklyn Federal Court.
The lawsuit was filed on Dec, 24 by two Haitian-American attorneys against former Presidents Michel Martelly, Jocelerme Privet and current President Jovenel Moise who have been accused of allegedly conspiring with wire transfer companies including Western Union, Unitransfer, Natcom and CAM to defraud Haitians living abroad.
According to court documents, from 2011 to 2015, Haitian officials collected $1.50 on every money transfer from abroad to Haiti including five extra cents on every phone call made to Haiti on the claim that the money was being used to fund primary and secondary education. In that time, nearly $90 million was raised.
In the aftermath of the January 2010 earthquake, Martelly called for education reform that would allow for free and universal education for all students through a government subsidy program known as PSUGO. According to court documents, his administration had intended on building schools in 10 different regions that never materialized.
The class action lawsuit comes on the coattails of the Petrocaribe scandal that rocked Haiti in August 2018 where more than a dozen Haitian officials were accused of embezzling $2 billion in Petrocaribe funds provided by Venezuela to aid in rebuilding Haiti.
Marcel P. Dennis, a Brooklyn-based Haitian-American attorney and one of the two attorneys who assisted in filing the lawsuit, mentions the repercussions of a government teaming up with businesses to scam people.
“They conspired amongst themselves to violate the Sherman Act,” he said. “That is price fixing. They entered into an agreement to fix the price of the service that they are rendering.”
Price fixing, where two or more companies team up to sell a product at a fixed rate in an attempt to control supply and demand, is a breach of section one of the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 which regulates competition amongst businesses.
Dennis was approached around six months ago by a client who found out the money he was sending to support his family in Haiti was being funneled by the government and was seeking legal advice.
“What are you inspecting? The dollar, the fifty dollar, the hundred dollars that I’m sending to my relatives at home,” he said regarding the circumstances his clients find themselves in. “That’s what you’re inspecting, that’s what you’re verifying? What exactly are you verifying?”
For Dennis and for Rodney Austin, a Queens-based Haitian-American attorney who could not be reached for comment, the overall goal of the lawsuit is to demand accountability for the wired money geared to improve education in Haiti.
“We want a detailed accounting of all the money they collected over the years and how much they transferred over to the Haitian government,” he said. “We’re going to charge the government a fee to collect the money or to act as an agent. We want to know all these things. In addition, we’re going to seek from them to actually build the schools that were supposed to be built from the money that was collected out of their own pockets.”