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A Haitian success turns sour

By DAVID ADAMS, Times Latin America Correspondent
Published July 3, 2005

MIAMI - There aren't that many positive stories to report in Haiti. So when I found one in December 2003, I was thrilled to write it for the St. Petersburg Times.

It was the uplifting account of a former Playboy centerfold, Susie Scott Krabacher, who went to Haiti to help starving kids and orphans.

But these are ugly times in Haiti. A year after President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was ousted from power, the country is in tatters, torn apart by political divisions and gang violence.

Nothing seems to escape the dark side of human nature, not even Krabacher's Mercy and Sharing Foundation. The charity is reeling from the discovery that its once-trusted manager in Haiti, Stanley Joseph, stole an estimated $40,000 worth of powdered milk, the main source of vitamins for the 2,300 children in its care.

Krabacher introduced me to Stanley as the reliable, can-do manager of her project. A businessman with no background in charity work, he appeared committed to Krabacher's social work, joining in prayers. Handsome and blessed with enormous personal charm, he was also a teetotaler. He seemed an invaluable asset.

In the two years since I met him, Stanley had become one of my best contacts in Haiti, as well as a good friend.

I went to him whenever I needed help in Haiti. Whether it was in the form of information or assistance in getting something done, he was my "go-to guy." When Tropical Storm Jeanne hit Haiti in September, Stanley advised me how best to get to the flood zone where thousands had perished. He came to meet me at Port-au-Prince airport and helped me find a reliable driver.

He was also my eyes and ears on the ground, helping me contact people and gauge what to believe and what not to. In Haiti, rumor is a substitute for information. Facts are hard to come by, and things are often not as they appear. So it's important to have someone to guide you through the information minefield.

Stanley used to enjoy pulling my leg about my efforts to find out what was going on in Haiti. Every time I visited, he would greet me with the same phrase. "Still looking for the truth," he would say, laughing, as though I were wasting my time on some illusory quest.

So, I shouldn't have been surprised to learn that he was hiding the truth from me. I had been warned by another friend that Stanley's business reputation wasn't stellar. There were stories of shady deals involving second-hand clothes. I had shrugged them off. Stanley was the first to admit he hadn't been a saint in the past. Who in Haiti hasn't been involved in some under-the-table business, I thought. I figured Stanley had changed his ways.

After I e-mailed him last month asking him for his opinion about the country's political mess, he wrote back: "David, the mess is getting messier and messier every day."

He made no mention of the fact that he had been arrested a few days earlier for allegedly stealing the powdered milk. I learned of his detention in a phone call from Krabacher. A former Playboy model turned devout Christian, Krabacher runs the foundation from her home in Aspen, Colo. (The St Petersburg Times featured her story in a front-page story Dec. 27, 2003.)

Krabacher says she grew suspicious last December during a visit to Haiti, when she noticed that the kids at the orphanage looked skinny. When she inquired, she was told an outbreak of measles was to blame. Now she says she is angry with herself for not looking deeper.

Aspen is a long way from Haiti, and about as far as it gets in terms of living conditions. It's possibly not the ideal place from which to run a Third World charity. But Krabacher has her life there, including her husband, a successful attorney who helps out with the charity, as well as a houseful of pets. She tries to get down to Haiti as often as possible. But fundraising and publicity-seeking for the charity take up a lot of her time.

"I can never let it happen again," she says.

One of the children has since died from malnutrition. Milk is the children's main source of vitamins. Mercy and Sharing gets milk donated from various sources, storing its supplies in a warehouse near the port.

In a painful phone conversation, Stanley admitted that he had sold part of a container load on the black market. He disputed the actual value of the missing milk, putting it closer to $10,000 to $15,000. An audit of the charity's books would confirm this, he said. But Mercy and Sharing no longer trusts him enough to believe the books.

In his defense, he also points out that the charity discovered what he had done with the milk only after he came forward and confessed.

"I was overwhelmed with shame and guilt," he said. "I didn't get caught doing anything. I volunteered the information."

Stanley says he was under pressure late last year from the owner of the warehouse, who was concerned that the presence of the donated goods created a "looting hazard."

The port is certainly one of the most dangerous areas of the city. Looting is rife, and powdered milk is highly sought after in a country where refrigeration is a problem because of the lack of electricity.

A lame excuse perhaps. A better one might be Haiti's current state of lawlessness, which is enough to send the needle spinning on anyone's moral compass. Ask any Haitian businessman trying to operate in Port-au-Prince under threat of extortion and kidnapping.

But if you are running an orphanage on donors' money, there can be no excuses.

Stanley agreed in late March to fly to Miami, where the charity said it was prepared to forgive him. It was a ruse. Upon his arrival in Miami, he was persuaded to take a polygraph test and sign his resignation.

Krabacher also hired a couple of bulky retired federal agents to join her at a meeting with Stanley, where he was informed that the charity expected him to repay the money he owes. A first $6,000 installment would be due after 10 days. He was also warned that failure to pay would result in serious consequences.

"I told him this is either the worst day in your life or the best day," said Michael McManus, a Fort Lauderdale private investigator and former DEA agent hired by the charity. "Either you cooperate or I will end up being your worst nightmare."

Stanley offered his Rolex watch as collateral, reckoning it to be worth at least $10,000. Upon his return to Haiti, he also sent a wire transfer for $5,300. But the charity wasn't satisfied. The Rolex was sent to a jeweler to be evaluated. "It's a fake," said McManus.

Krabacher and McManus went down to Haiti in mid April. Using contacts at the U.S. Embassy and the Haitian Justice Ministry, they had Stanley arrested. He spent a week in police custody before being released.

It's unclear how his case will be handled in Haiti's dysfunctional justice system. He is from a well-connected family, and his uncle is the minister of finance.

He says he still plans to repay the charity. "This thing is really being blown out of proportion," he said. "I did something wrong, and all I want to do is put things right."

Mercy and Sharing says it's too late for that. McManus is traveling back to Haiti later this month to see how the case is progressing.

"We have to send a message that this kind of behavior cannot be tolerated," said Krabacher. "Someone needs to be held accountable down there."

She says the charity has learned a lesson, too. She says she plans to be more hands-on in the future and not allow publicity and fundraising to get in the way of her visits to the orphans.

Meanwhile, the search is on for a new manager. Replacing Stanley won't be easy.

- David Adams can be reached at dadams@sptimes.com

[Last modified July 2, 2005, 09:39:04]

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