HOUSTON — Weeks after it was rescued from a hijacked United States Navy warship, six Americans remain captive in a hotel in Haiti as they await the release of a major cocaine trafficker with whom they are suspected of kidnapping.
Donald Seals, the leader of a Los Angeles-based gang, told the hostages that he would kill them if they did not comply with his demands, according to government officials and sources in Haiti who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
“The prisoner was delivering a message, demanding to be released, and he was also threatening the foreigners,” said a U.S. official who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the case.
The hostage-taking has occurred in the months since Haiti’s parliament ratified an extradition treaty with the United States that would allow U.S. authorities to bring Seals, 44, to trial on kidnapping charges. The high-level crime ring leader is suspected of having sought to exert influence over all aspects of Haitian society.
One of the Americans, identified as Matthew Tipton, remained hospitalized as of Friday, his family confirmed. His ordeal began with an aborted kidnapping attempt in April 2017.
It is not clear what Seals wants. Two U.S. officials said they knew of no references to ransom, but the Haitian government has a history of accepting payments and arranging for the release of prisoners sought by the United States.
In February 2012, armed men killed three kidnapping victims and freed two others held captive by a gang linked to Seals and others in Los Angeles. The victims were held for ransom as well as other reasons, according to Haitian government and law enforcement officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because of fears for their safety.
U.S. authorities determined last year that Seals and his gang were the prime suspects in the murder of the three Haitians who were murdered during a hostage-taking attempt in the capital, Port-au-Prince. The couple, Scott Wiseman and Nyah Nyah Wilkerson, and their son were on vacation in Haiti but decided to vacation in the countryside after receiving an invitation from a friend, prosecutors said.
Four Haitian men came to a house on a dirt road outside Port-au-Prince to lure the family into their car, but they pulled a gun on Wiseman and Wilkerson and abducted them, prosecutors said. After ordering them to call a number they said belonged to the traffickers, the kidnappers contacted an associate in Los Angeles to find out where they were and to call the families, who would receive the ransom.
The three captives were later bound and stuffed into a van and taken to a house in Rongré, near the Dominican Republic border, where the kidnappers kept them for two days, authorities said. The family was able to reach the United States the following day.
Two days later, all three of the family members were dead. One Haitian man was later acquitted of kidnapping, and a third man is awaiting trial in his case.
In his CNN interview on Friday, Wiseman’s stepdaughter, Erin Curtis, told the network that Seals and his gang are accused of working with several Haitian politicians. She did not name the politicians, but Haiti’s justice system has come under fierce criticism by Haitians since a new government took office in October and took control of the courts.
“The proof of life is what people will focus on, but the actual charges and actually giving us answers to those questions, including the official charges, will be more important,” Curtis said.