Details and a timeline began emerging late Friday, filling in blanks about how two South Florida men became entangled in the killing of Haiti’s president.
Photos released in Haiti on Friday showed James Solages, 35, and Vincent Joseph, 55, with their hands behind their backs after capture.
Sitting on the floor, the men are wearing matching military-style tan boots, covered in sweat with their hands tied behind their backs. The State Department confirmed that U.S. Embassy officials were trying to gain consular access to the two South Floridians accused in the assassination.
Multiple news reports quoted the men as having told Haitian police that they acted as translators for Spanish-speaking Colombians who were part of the operation. Haitian officials said Friday that 15 Colombians, some of them former soldiers, had been detained since the Wednesday morning assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in his home.
The two Americans said they were not in the room when the president was killed, according to Clément Noël, an investigative judge who said he’d questioned the Floridians after their arrest.
In an interview with The New York Times, Noël said the two Americans acknowledged that at least a month of planning went into the plot. There are still questions about whether Solages and Joseph had any help from people in South Florida, but that will likely be an avenue of investigation for the FBI, which is helping Haitian authorities.
The detail of the month-long planning is important because the Miami Herald has learned that Solages on April 12 abruptly quit his secure job of two years as director of maintenance at an upscale senior living center in Lantana, about 40 miles north of Fort Lauderdale.
“He was clean as a whistle,” said Richard Tournesy, executive director of The Carlisle Palm Beach, adding Solages underwent a detailed background check. “He was a good worker.”
The tall, quiet man was a model employee, he said, who was conscientious and polite, spoke English with almost no accent and drove an old white pickup truck. Public records show Solages without any criminal record or any liens against his businesses.
The Haitian judge told the Times that the two Haitian Americans were captured after a shootout with police that left two Colombians dead. The Americans, he said, planned the attack with the Colombians at a swank hotel in Pétion-Ville, a suburb of the capital city of Port-au-Prince.
The men reportedly told the judge their intent was to bring Moïse to the national palace, not to kill him. The men do not appear to have lawyers yet and could not provide their own account of events.
Judge Noël also answered another key detail, saying that Solages had been in the country about a month and that Joseph, about whom there is little information, had been there for half a year living with a cousin. It’s unclear if the two men knew each other in South Florida.
It was Solages, said the judge, who in good English yelled through a loudspeaker during the assault that it was a raid by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
In South Florida, few of the people who knew the men are talking.
Three Haitian Americans were listed on two companies Solages registered with the Florida Division of Corporations — Edlyne Jeudy, Jean Milot Berquin and Nixon Santerre, whose LinkedIn page said he works for Save the Children in Haiti. None of the three returned calls and emails requesting comment.
Jeudy was on the board of directors of Solages’ small charity. She also overlapped with Solages at his Lantana job at the Carlisle. The executive director there confirmed Jeudy had worked as a health and wellness director there for more than two years.
Solages’ aunt, Victorie Dorisme, told the Herald Thursday night that she was shocked to learn of the accusations against her nephew, whose last address was her Tamarac residence, which she said he stayed at between trips to Haiti and during a divorce.
His uncle, Schubert Dorisme, declined to comment. But later in an interview with the Haitian Times, Dorisme, a bus driver, said his nephew thought the Haitian president was crazy but never showed signs of wanting to kill him.
Solages traveled frequently to his hometown of Jacmel, the uncle said, and hoped to run for mayor one day.
Miami Herald staff writer Jacqueline Charles in Haiti and McClatchy Washington Bureau national security correspondent Michael Wilner contributed to this story.