A New York judge awarded three Haitian women $19 million in damages last week for rapes and torture they suffered at the hands of a notorious death squad leader, who lived in Laurelton until recently.
Emmanuel “Toto” Constant, who is currently awaiting trial on mortgage fraud charges in Suffolk County, headed a government sponsored Haitian gang in the early 1990s that raped, tortured and abused the political supporters of former Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide.
The three women, whose identities were kept secret during the trial for fear of reprisals, will be awarded $15 million in punitive damages and $4 million in compensatory damages.
Constant lived in Laurelton for more than 10 years after he fled Haiti when Aristide was returned to power in 1994. Despite pressure from New York’s Haitian community, the United States government made no effort to arrest him after he announced on “60 Minutes” in 1995 that he had been a CIA operative. Prior to his arrest on fraud charges earlier this year he was required to check in with immigration officials, but was able to work and live openly without fear of deportation.
Under Constant, a paramilitary group known as the Front for Advancement and Progress conducted a systematic terror campaign in Haiti from 1991 to 1994. In 2000, a Haitian court convicted him of supervising the massacre of 26 unarmed civilians in the town of Gonaives in 1994.
U.S. District Judge Sidney Stein found the former mortgage broker “liable for torture, attempted extrajudicial killing and crimes against humanity” for the abuse that the three women who filed the lawsuit suffered. According to the lawsuit, all three were gang raped.
“Although this case is about justice, not money, I am very pleased that the court has held Toto Constant responsible for what happened to us. This is a victory for all the Haitian people,” said one of the plaintiffs in a press release following the announcement of the award.
While he has never faced criminal charges in international courts related to his actions in Haiti, Constant is currently awaiting trial on fraud charges stemming from a $1.3 million Long Island real estate scheme.
He allegedly inflated the value of the East Setauket home of one of his co conspirators. He is accused of making an appraisal of the house that exceeded the actual value by hundreds of thousands of dollars. A fake buyer then purchased the home.
Constant forged the buyer’s bank statements in order to inflate his assets, then took out a $1 million bank loan using the house as collateral. He pleaded not guilty to the fraud charges in July.