WASHINGTON (AP) — A powerful Haitian gang leader has been charged by U.S. prosecutors with ordering the kidnapping of an American couple from their home in Haiti that left the woman dead, authorities said Tuesday.
Vitel’homme Innocent — who remains at large and is believed to be living in Tabarre, Haiti — is accused of directing the Oct. 2022 kidnapping of Jean Franklin and Marie Odette Franklin for ransom.
Armed gang members stormed their home, and Marie Franklin was shot and killed in the kidnapping. Her husband, Jean, was held for 21 days and released following ransom payments made to the gang on behalf of his family, authorities said.
Authorities are offering a reward of $1 million for information leading to the arrest of Innocent, who runs the violent Kraze Barye gang that operates in Port-au-Prince.
“When Americans are kidnapped abroad we will show there will be swift accountability for such conduct,” said U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Matthew Graves.
Innocent was previously charged by federal prosecutors in Washington last year in connection with the 2021 kidnappings of 16 U.S. Christian missionaries, including five children. Most of them were held for more than two months before escaping from captivity, Graves said.
The latest indictment charges Innocent with conspiracy to commit hostage taking resulting in death, aiding and abetting hostage taking and attempted hostage taking resulting in death by the U.S. Justice Department.
From July 1 to Sept. 30, more than 700 people in Haiti were reported kidnapped, a 244% increase compared with the same period last year, according to the United Nations.
Meanwhile, more than 1,230 people were reported killed during those months, more than double compared with the same timeframe last year.
Kidnappings and killings continue to surge as gangs estimated to control up to 80% of the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince keep growing more powerful.
Among those recently kidnapped is the secretary general of Haiti’s High Transitional Council, which is charged with organizing long-awaited general elections. Authorities said gang members dressed as police officers abducted Anthony Virginie Saint-Pierre last week.
Associated Press writer Danica Coto contributed to this report from San Juan, Puerto Rico.