May 26, 2023
Last month, a jury found Prakazrel “Pras” Michel guilty for his role in a multimillion-dollar fraud and influence peddling trial. He faces up to 20 years in prison.
Michel, the former Fugees star, is accused of taking upwards of $20 million from Jho Low, a Malaysian businessman at the center of the 1MDB scandal, and using illegal “straw donors” to funnel that money to the 2012 Obama reelection campaign. For all the lurid details on the case and the backstory of how Pras got involved, this Bloomberg piece fits the bill. But it’s not just a story of billionaire fugitives, US presidents, and Hollywood star power; it’s also a story with a direct connection to Haiti.
Michel testified that he used $800,000 to reimburse men he referred to as “my Haitian friends” for $40,000 donations they paid to attend a June 2012 fundraiser in Miami co-hosted by the singer Marc Anthony—and another one in September at White’s home. Michel said he spent the remainder of the $20 million “at my discretion.”
So, who are Michel’s “Haitian friends”?
One clue came on the first day of the trial, when the government called as a witness Randall Toussaint, the president and cofounder of Panexus S.A., a Haitian construction company. I didn’t see any public reporting on his testimony, but campaign donations are a matter of public record. On August 13, 2012, Toussaint donated $40,000 to the Obama Victory Fund.
Panexus, which has only been around since 2009, took off after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. In a few short years, it was landing some of the biggest and most high-profile reconstruction projects in the country, like the rehabilitation of the Port-au-Prince airport. And the money was also flowing in from donors, including the United States. In 2013, Panexus received a $17 million contract from the State Department to build two prisons in Haiti. The firm boasts that it “is the first Haitian firm to be awarded a major U.S. State Department contract as well as secure financing from The Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC).”
Toussaint’s fellow cofounder of Panexus is Gilbert Hippolyte. On June 28, 2012, Hippolyte also made a $40,000 donation to the Obama Victory Fund. Just a few months prior, in an interview with a local paper, Hippolyte had said his two favorite political leaders were Haitian president Michel Martelly and US president Barack Obama.
Panexus, however, is not the only business venture that Toussaint and Hippolyte have been involved in. They are also both part owners of Paret Petroleum, according to corporate documents obtained by HRRW as part of a separate investigation. In 2012, the firm received exploration permits for numerous oil blocks in Haiti under the Martelly administration. Paret Petroleum is a joint venture with Caribbean General Trading, a South Florida company run by an influential Haitian-American, Rudy Moise, who ran an unsuccessful bid for the US Congress in 2010 and 2012. Moise campaigned in favor of Martelly, and the Haitian president later returned the favor, endorsing Moise’s congressional challenge to incumbent Frederica Wilson in 2012. In 2014, Martelly named Moise ambassador-at-large.
Though little is publicly known about Paret’s operations in Haiti, in 2018, a Miami-based club promoter, Joel Rousseau, posted photos on his personal Instagram page showing men in Paret Petroleum uniforms operating a drilling rig somewhere in Haiti. Rousseau made a $40,000 donation to the Obama Victory Fund on the same day as Hippolyte. Rousseau donated another $35,000 in September.
This isn’t the first time Rousseau’s name has come up in relation to the Pras Michel trial, however. The foreign influence-peddling campaign did not end when Trump took office. In 2020, a prominent Trump fundraiser, Elliott Broidy, pled guilty to his role in the conspiracy with Michel and has provided testimony about how he and Michel reaped huge profits in their efforts to get the Trump administration to drop its investigation into the 1MBD scandal. In 2019, ProPublica obtained the search warrant for Broidy’s South Florida office:
The search warrant for Broidy’s office also lists a name and corporation not previously linked to Broidy: “Joel Rouseau” and “Intelligent Resources.” There is a company by that name incorporated in Miami Beach by a Joel Rousseau, who is a friend of Michel’s. The search warrant does not describe Rousseau or Intelligent Resources’ role in the case.
Rousseau, Toussaint, and Hippolyte all have a direct relationship with Michel. The link above, from the ProPublica article, shows Rousseau with Michel and Wyclef Jean at a 2006 party that it says Rousseau threw for Michel’s birthday. The same site also has photos from a 2009 event held in West Hollywood in which Toussaint, Hippolyte, and Rousseau appear with Michel. Also present in one photo is Haitian-American actress Claudine Oriol. On the same day as Hippolyte and Rousseau, Oriol also donated $40,000 to the Obama Victory Fund.
Pras Michel was also directly involved in Martelly’s 2010 campaign for the presidency. While the alleged conspiracy was taking place, Michel produced a documentary film on the campaign, Sweet Micky for President, directed by Ben Patterson of Onslot Productions. On August 31, 2012, Patterson donated — you guessed it — $40,000 to the Obama Victory Fund.
Two weeks later, on September 13, 2012, Pras Michel himself donated $40,000 to the Obama Victory Fund. In court, Michel claimed to have given roughly $800,000 to the Obama campaign through various straw donors. The possibly illegal donations identified here total only $240,000.
In a Twitter thread, Friedman, the Mother Jones reporter, provided additional details about the fraudulent donation scheme. Prosecutors brought up a letter from Michel that he had sent to the “friends” whom he had reimbursed for political donations. “You sent your friends letters lying about the terms on which you originally gave them money and threatening legal action against them to cover your tracks. Right?” Friedman reported a DOJ lawyer as asking Michel. “Yes,” Michel responded. Yet Michel claimed that, at the time of the donations, he did not know the practice was illegal.
If the authors receive comments from any of those individuals mentioned, the post will be updated.