A former Haitian mayor was criminally charged Wednesday with lying on his application to become a legal resident of the U.S., just one day after he was found liable for a killing and two attempted slayings in his homeland.
Jean Morose Viliena, 50, was indicted on three counts of visa fraud, according to the U.S. attorney’s office in Boston. Conviction on the charge carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.
"Gaining lawful entry into our country is a privilege, not a right," U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins said in a statement. "Our nation offers protection, assistance and asylum to those who are persecuted. People that perpetrate acts of violence and harm — and then allegedly lie about their conduct to U.S. immigration officials — in their countries are not welcome here."
An email seeking comment was sent to Viliena's attorney.
Viliena went to the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in June 2008 to apply for a visa that would gain him entry to the U.S., federal prosecutors said.
When asked on the application form whether he was excluded from admission to the U.S. for having "ordered, carried out or materially assisted in extrajudicial and political killings and other acts of violence against the Haitian people," he said he was not, prosecutors said.
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He then swore that his application was true and signed it, authorities said. The visa was approved the next day. He moved to the U.S. in July 2008 and was granted a Permanent Resident Card, also known as a green card.
Viliena has been living in Malden, just north of Boston, authorities said.
But federal prosecutors allege that while mayor of the town of Les Irois — a community of about 22,000 on Haiti's western tip — Viliena was involved in acts of violence against political foes.
In 2007, prosecutors said, he led a group of his allies to the home of a political opponent, where he and his associates shot and killed the opponent's younger brother, then smashed his skull with a rock.
Prosecutors also allege that in 2008, Viliena and his allies went armed with guns, machetes, picks and sledgehammers to a community radio station that he opposed to shut it down. He allegedly pistol-whipped and punched a man and ordered an associate to shoot and kill the man and one other person.
Both survived, but one of the men lost a leg and the other was blinded in one eye.
Viliena was found liable by an American jury in a civil trial on Tuesday for his role in the killing and the two attempted killings and assessed $15.5 million in compensatory and punitive damages.
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The suit was filed by the San Francisco-based Center for Justice and Accountability on behalf of David Boniface, Juders Ysemé and Nissage Martyr in Boston in 2017. Nissage Martyr died, and his son, Nissandère Martyr, replaced him as a plaintiff.
The suit was filed under the Torture Victim Protection Act of 1991, which allows lawsuits to be filed in the U.S. against foreign officials who allegedly committed wrongdoing in their homeland if all legal avenues in their country have been exhausted.
"The Center for Justice and Accountability welcomes action by the Justice Department but calls for human rights criminal charges to be brought given the strong evidence presented against Viliena for torture and other abuses during the civil trial," the center said in a statement Wednesday.
The center also called on the State Department, the U.S. Embassy in Haiti, and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to work with the government of Haiti to ensure the safety of their clients and family members, who have been subjected to retaliation and intimidation.
Boniface, Ysemé and Martyr continue to live in hiding and said in statements Wednesday that while pleased with Viliena's arrest, they are concerned about their families.
Martyr's mother and sisters still live in Les Irois.
"His associates in Les Irois have said that if Jean Morose Viliena is arrested, what they have done before will be nothing compared to what they will do now," Martyr said in a statement that was translated from Haitian Creole into English. "They said they will burn the city of Les Irois and the families of the people who sought justice."