A former Lake Worth bank teller and now an aide to Haiti’s first lady has broken his silence regarding the 2007 incident that has made him a fugitive in Florida, calling the case a “misunderstanding.” Leaders of a Haitian human rights’ group, however, are calling for his resignation.
News of Karl Jean-Jeune’s fugitive status has been a topic of discussion on Haitian media outlets both locally and in Haiti since The Palm Beach Post this week reported that Florida prison officials said Jean-Jeune had absconded from a probation sentence he was supposed to be serving for a 2007 case. Deputies say he admitted to stealing $27,800 in cash from the Washington Mutual Bank branch where he worked.
Jean-Jeune — who violated his probation more than a year into a six-year probation sentence that could have ended early had he repaid the bank — declined to comment on the case Monday when reached by phone in Haiti.
But on Wednesday, Jean-Jeune posted a letter on the blog of friend and popular Haitian Radio and TV personality Carel Pedre, calling the case a “misunderstanding” and saying he’s had a lawyer working to resolve the matter since October.
The letter was written in French but translated into English and posted on the Orlando-based Haitian culture news site Defend.ht.
“My lawyer has taken all measures to settle my affairs, long before the media made it into a scandal,” Jean-Jeune, 26, wrote, adding that he will continue working until the matter is resolved.
At this point, according to local prosecutors, resolving the matter will require Jean-Jeune to surrender.
It’s unclear whether Jean-Jeune’s attorney had tried to contact local prosecutors before this week, but Palm Beach County State Attorney’s office spokesman Mike Edmondson on Thursday said prosecutor Ryan Kelley received a call from an attorney for Jean-Jeune on Wednesday.
“I think the extent of the conversation from his end was: When your client surrenders to authorities, then we can have a conversation,” Edmondson said of Kelly’s response.
West Palm Beach Attorney Gregg Lerman said the most important issue in the case is not who Jean-Jeune is, but whether he can repay the bank. Although Jean-Jeune pleaded guilty to a charge of second-degree grand theft and was sentenced in February 2008, the warrant for his probation violation wasn’t entered into court records until June 2009 — a possible sign, Lerman says, that Jean-Jeune made an effort to serve his sentence.
“If he was my client the fist thing I would do is figure out exactly how much is owed, including the court costs, and have him get that amount to me so I could put it in a trust account right away,” Lerman said.
But Maribel Ferrer, a Miami-based spokeswoman for Chase Bank, said it would be difficult to quickly figure out how much Jean-Jeune has repaid since the case was prosecuted before Chase acquired Washington Mutual.
On Wednesday, leaders of the Réseau National de Défense des Droits Humains — or National Network for the Defense of Human Rights — called for Jean-Jeune’s resignation in an open letter to Haitian President Michael Martelly. The group’s executive director compared the case to others where presidential staffers have been accused of crimes.
Jean-Jeune has received a strong showing of online support from friends — which include 8,000 Twitter followers — since the Post’s story broke.
Active on social media with some 8,000 Twitter followers, Jean-Jeune said his present life is not at all representative of the incident where Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputies say he walked out of the bank several times over a period of months with thousands of dollars in stolen money.
“This case belongs in the past and has nothing to do with the person I am today, how I do my job, (or) deal with my friends and my family,” he said.