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A prominent Haitian gang leader was sentenced this week to 35 years in a U.S. prison after being found guilty of weapons smuggling and money laundering, The Miami Herald reported.

Germine Joly, better known as "Yonyon," was the leader of a 400-strong gang called Mawozo. Federal prosecutors who described his criminal activities had sought a life sentence, while him and his lawyers said he should get 17.5 years after he entered a guilty plea.

"The leaders of violent gangs in Haiti that terrorize American citizens in order to fuel their criminal activity will be met with the full force of the Justice Department," Attorney General Merrick Garland said after the sentencing. Joly's was the harshest of several sentences doled out in the case.

"All too often, Americans in Haiti have been targets of gang violence," added U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Matthew Graves. "These two defendants not only helped lead a prominent violent gang in Haiti, but they were also intimately involved in arming the gang and laundering ransom proceeds the gang obtained from kidnapping Americans. These sentences send a message that those who engage in such violence against Americans, and who arm and launder money on behalf of these violent gangs, will pay a heavy price," he added.

Joly and three accomplices received at least $28,000 in wire transfers they ended up using to buy semi-automatic weapons as gangs continue to sow chaos in Haiti. Joly, the prosecutors said, decided which arms were needed to carry out violent operations and responsible for "managing and controlling the gang's hostage taking activities."

They were making reference to a series of events that took place in 2021, when the gang he led abducted 17 missionaries, including five children, as an Ohio-based organization was making its way through the gang's territory after visiting an orphanage. All but one were held for 62 days. Joly is facing separate charges for the abductions.

"These offenses show a complete disregard not just for U.S. law and security, but a complete disregard for the fate of the country of Haiti and its people," the prosecutors said in a passage of their request.

The former gang leader is not involved in the current crisis unfolding in the Caribbean country, where numerous criminal organizations control about 80% of the capital, Port-au-Prince, hundreds of thousands have been displaced and a sizable percentage of the population face hunger amid insufficient aid. He was extradited in May 2022 to the U.S. to stand trial in Washington and has been in custody ever since.

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