Former Haiti coup leader sentenced to nine years in U.S. prison

(Reuters) - The leader of a 2004 coup that toppled Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was sentenced to nine years in prison on Wednesday after pleading guilty to a U.S. money laundering charge related to an international drug trafficking scheme.

FILE PHOTO: Guy Philippe, former police chief police, participates in a march into the city of Gonaives, Haiti, February 19, 2004. REUTERS/Daniel Aguilar/File Photo

Guy Philippe, 49, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Cecilia Altonaga in Miami after pleading guilty to conspiring to commit money laundering in connection with his receipt of cash payments tied to narcotics sales in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Prosecutors said Philippe, a former high-ranking official in the Haitian National Police, received more than $1.5 million in bribes to ensure the safe transit of drug shipments.

His sentence was confirmed by court records. Philippe has been in custody since his arrest early this year.

A lawyer for Philippe did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

Philippe pleaded guilty in April as part of a deal in which two counts were dismissed against him, including one for drug trafficking that could have resulted in a life sentence, and in which the parties agreed to recommend a nine-year prison term.

He was arrested in Haiti on Jan. 5 in Haiti after giving a radio interview and then extradited to the United States. He had avoided capture for more than a decade in connection with a November 2005 indictment.

The arrest came four days before Philippe was scheduled to join Haiti’s parliament as a senator, following his November election from the country’s southwestern Grand Anse region.

U.S. prosecutors accused Philippe of conspiring from 1997 to March 2001 to import more than 5 kg (11 pounds) of cocaine into the United States, and to launder money to conceal illegal activity from June 1999 to April 2003.

He was also accused of having transferred a $112,000 check that included sums from drug trafficking in late 2000.

Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Paul Tait