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Florida man convicted of shipping body armor before assassination of Haitian president

Before Frederick Bergmann joined a plot in South Florida to overthrow the Haitian president, he was, by all accounts, a wealthy business owner and family man.

Bergmann, who graduated with honors from the University of Florida and became a CPA, founded a diagnostic imaging company and a laboratory testing company.

With his success, he began donating money to charities in Haiti and met Christian Emmanuel Sanon, a Haitian doctor who asked Bergmann to send a few bulletproof vests to a security team that would support Sanon in his bid to become Haiti's next president , protected.

Doing his friend a favor, Bergmann was sentenced Tuesday to nine years in prison for violating federal laws designed to keep the U.S. out of conflicts overseas. A Miami federal judge overseeing the assassination case against Haitian President Jovenel Moïse sentenced Bergmann to a year less than the maximum sentence. Moïse was killed on July 7, 2021, at his hillside home outside Port-au-Prince by Colombian commandos wearing ballistic vests that Bergmann had shipped to Haiti a month before the deadly attack.

According to federal prosecutors and his defense attorney, the 65-year-old miner had no idea that the vests would be used in the plot to assassinate the Haitian president. Because of this, he was not charged with the murder conspiracy and sentenced to life in prison, like five other defendants who pleaded guilty to that higher crime in federal court in Miami. Five other defendants, including Sanon, are now on trial on charges of conspiring to assassinate the Haitian president and relatives next January.

Instead, Bergmann pleaded guilty to two lesser conspiracy charges: supporting a “military expedition against a friendly nation” and violating export laws by smuggling 20 ballistic vests in a shipment to the Colombian security team in Haiti. Bergmann forged the shipping labels saying the contents were “medical x-ray vests and school supplies.”

Shortly before his sentencing, Bergmann apologized to the judge, the people of Haiti and his family, lamenting the “stupid sequence of events” and his “poor judgment.”

“I wish I could turn back time,” said Bergmann, who faces up to 10 years in prison for the two conspiracy offenses under federal sentencing guidelines.

U.S. District Judge Jose Martinez gave him a brief break after Bergmann's attorney, Henry Bell, argued that his client was an “underage” gambler who dedicated his life to caring for his wife and family in the Tampa area while also doing charity work for his employees and poor people in Haiti. Bell also pointed out that Bergmann and other family members have suffered from mental illness in the past.

“He spent a lot of time and money doing good in Haiti” in the areas of health care and education, Bell said, pointing to several letters of support for Bergmann. “I think there’s a record for leniency in this case.”

Bell pleaded for a prison sentence of between six and eight years.

Martinez said he believes Bergmann has already received a “significant advantage” by being charged only with the Neutrality Act and export violations, suggesting he faces a maximum sentence of 10 years for both crimes. But then, without explanation, Martinez decided to sentence Bergmann to nine years in prison and allowed him to turn himself in to prison authorities in August. He remains free on bail.

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Martinez, known as a tough judge, had already handed down five life sentences to five previous defendants in the Haiti murder case, which is now at a crossroads.

The remaining five defendants are accused of plotting in South Florida to assassinate the Haitian leader and face similar charges, including a local security firm accused of recruiting Colombian commandos to carry out the deadly attack. The conspiracy charge carries a sentence of up to life in prison.

The defendants facing trial are Antonio Intriago, the head of Miami-area security firm CTU; Arcangel Pretel Ortiz, a former FBI informant who joined Intriago at CTU; Walter Veintemilla, a Broward County financier; James Solages, a Haitian American; and Sanon, the Haitian doctor who was initially viewed by the group as Moïse's successor as Haitian president.

In February, Sanon, along with the others, was first charged with conspiring to assassinate the Haitian president after initially being accused of attempting to conduct a military expedition against a foreign country. It was the fifth indictment filed by prosecutors Andrea Goldbarg, Monica Castro and Frank Russo.

©2024 Miami Herald. Visit miamiherald.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency LLC.

Anna Harden

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