Tim gives the emotional back story of Gardy, the currently missing son of a friend, in Haiti. He talks about recent efforts to rescue him and a little about how Gardy helped start Operation Underground Railroad. Interview w/ Tim Ballard Mark Mabry January 20, 2015
Welcome to Slave Stealer Podcast. Tim Ballard here with Mark Mabry, and we're going to talk today about the story that really started Operation Underground Railroad. It's the story of a man named Guesno Mardy who is a Haitian man whose son was kidnapped, trafficked, from Port-au-Prince. He was the pastor of his congregation, and this boy was taken from church, passed on to traffickers, and vanished.
What's horrible about this story is that while he's looking for his boy - he's only two or three weeks into the search - and that's when Haiti has that earthquake that kills 300 and some thousand people. Included amongst those people were Guesno's mother, Guesno's sister, and almost his wife. She was the only person who survived in this building that collapsed and only because her body fell into, like, a crevasse of cement jungle and somehow walked out without a scratch. And that's when she said...she basically cursed the land and said, "I'm leaving. My son's been kidnapped." She had four other children at the time and she says, "I'm outta here. I'm going to Florida. I cannot live in this cursed land." And Guesno says, "I can't leave without Gardy." So they're still married and everything, but he lives in Haiti because he will not leave until he finds his son.
And she lives in Florida.
She lives in Florida.
That was a lot to take in for an opening paragraph.
Yeah. How'd you like that one?
That was big.
Let's just start here, then. Let's start into the narrative, because you gave us a good context. Take me to the first time you ever spoke to Guesno. What was your situation at the time? And what was his response?
I was a government agent when I heard about the case - and the reason I heard about the case was because this little boy Gardy actually was born in the United States. His parents were on a fundraising mission. They have an orphanage, beautiful orphanage, that we visit often, and it has 150 kids in it. They're on a fundraising mission, and that's when Guesno's wife, Marjorie, was pregnant with Gardy, had Gardy - he's a U.S. citizen. He's the only of the of the five kids, the (now) five kids, that's a citizen, so I...naturally, I heard about the case. There was some press on it, and I was reading about it - not very much press, but a little bit. And I thought, "I wonder what's happening with this little U.S. citizen who's been taken?"
So I started digging into it, found out that the case had been given over to the Haitian national police. There were some federal agents who went down in the wake of the kidnapping and then the earthquake happened and all hell broke loose and they just had no leads. At that point, though, very few were looking for Gardy, relatively speaking, at the time, and then when the earthquake hits, there's no infrastructure. Prisons broke, people were running out of jail... I mean, there was no resources to do anything like a proactive investigation for a missing person.
How many displaced children were there in the wake of the earthquake? Do you know?
Oh, it's hundreds of thousands. Hundreds of thousands.
So one missing already, it's a... Nobody cares.
Oh...later on, we went and talked to the Haitian police about the Gardy case, and they said, "Look, we care about this case, but the problem is, we get a missing person or missing kid report every week, several a week. Dozens."
I want to know about the first phone call. Tell me about the first time you connected with Guesno.
I was trying to work this case from the government. I actually opened a case on it, but because there were no leads and it would have required a trip down there to even find leads, that's not enough to get anyone to sign off on a plane ticket. So what I decided to do was reach out to him. I found a connection between him and me, someone who knew both of us, and they reached out to him and we got him up here with private funding. We got him up... We flew him from Haiti to up into Salt Lake City.
Him alone, or him and his wife?
And we met at Thanksgiving Point, which is an area that has restaurants and dining. And I foolishly invited him to the nicest restaurant at Thanksgiving Point. I thought I was doing something kind, and he walks in... He totally feels out of place, he sits down. We order this food, and he's looking at it - this is my first impressions of him. He comes in, we're just kind of talking, small talk. And we order this food, and they bring it out, and then he's just like, "This could feed ten of my kids for a week..."
I hate people like that. Debbie Downer. Here you are at this...
I'm just kidding, I don't hate Guesno.
No, but he was completely just honest and genuine. He just took, like, a little bit of the food for himself - like, a tiny bit - and then asked for it... He was leaving the next morning, so he's like, "This food won't perish. I'll be able to take it back to my kids."
His kids meaning...the kids at the orphanage...
The kids at the orphanage.
So that made me feel like, oh. Well, I mean, I was grateful that, I guess, some of the food got to go back.. I think he had to smuggle it through customs, to be honest with you; I don't think you are supposed to take food, but he probably figured out a way.
So we sat there, and we started talking about it. And it was a punch to the stomach when he said to me... It was one of the first... He kind of led out with this. I said, "What are you doing right now to find your son? Like, what's the plan?" And he said, "The plan is... All I have right now is zero leads..."
Except, he did have a target location. He knew of a place that he believed Gardy had gone through this illicit orphanage. He had tried to get in, he couldn't get in... He said, "You're not going to be able to get in. No one can get in there." He rented... he used to rent, like, a motel or a room in a building across the street. He'd get up on the roof with binoculars and tried to look into this place. It's like a fortress kind of thing. And these kids... It's just on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince. He says he's tried to get in several times and no one will let him in. It's all walled off, gated off, because you can't get in.
Pause button. This may be a cultural thing or personality thing: if you thought your son was behind those walls, what would you do? Would you not, guns blazing, go in.?
The police told him, "If you can find a kid in there that you can tell us you've seen your son - you can show us some pictures of it - we will raid the place."
Short of that he... You know, I think part may be a cultural thing, partly he doesn't understand, like... I don't know. I mean, I would have been more aggressive, sure. I would've just gone in...
...and made a ruse or excuse for going in or whatever. But, in fact, that's what we end up doing.
But, but they knew him, as Will disclosed. so there was no ruse.
They knew him. Yeah, they knew him, they knew him and so it was even more difficult for him to get in. And Haiti's also a culture of, you know, people don't want to... It's a very violent culture, right? I mean, everyone's seen someone murdered. And so people are very careful about stepping out into anything. They don't want to get involved. They don't want to get wrapped into it. There's traffickers and thugs involved with kidnapping this boy, and so no one wants to step in, so Guesno was just alone. Even he has to be careful how far he goes; he might create a situation where he's off'd.
If someone will kidnap, they will murder.
I think, in general. It's a blatant disregard for life.
Especially in Haiti.
Yeah. So he's just... He told me that's what he does. Aside from that piece of intelligence... And he says there's no way of getting in there and he wasn't even 100% that he was still there - he was certain that Gardy, at least at one point, had been trafficked through this place. But he still held out for the possibility that he could be anywhere in Port-au-Prince or anywhere in Haiti or anywhere in the world, for that matter.
But he told me that he arbitrarily picked a neighborhood in the city, in Port-au-Prince, and he would just walk. He would just walk with a flashlight, hoping. And I remember, we were sitting there having this dinner, and he says...and this is what really, really hit me. He said, "I just walk the streets hoping to hear Gardy's cry." And I said, "How do you pick the area?" He said, "I just pray and I just pick an area." The scarier the area, the better.
...he said. And he just walks and hopes to hear Gardy's cry. I said, "Guesno, that's not a good enough plan. You gotta come up with a better plan." And he says, "I know, you need to help me." And then he starts telling me...he starts tearing up, and he says, "Do you have kids?" And I said, "Yeah, I have kids." He said, "Can you imagine laying down and falling asleep in your home, on any given night, knowing that you have a small child whose bed is empty? And he's somewhere outside, you have no idea where. Could you just lay down, knowing that the bed is empty?" I said, "No. There's no way." " Well, I haven't slept for years."
Asking you, as a man of faith: knowing Guesno's faith - and that'll show up further on down the story - how do you reconcile that much prayer? And that much... I'm talking thousands of prayers - not only his, but those of his wife and kids, those of now tens of thousands of people that have heard...millions of people that have heard of Guesno and prayed... For Gardy not to be found yet, it hurts. Like, it doesn't destroy my faith, but it certainly goes, "Oh, come on. This one's worthy." How do we reconcile that gap?
Well, I've had these talks with Guesno, and he says...he believes there is a higher purpose for this. He believes that Gardy's alive. He believes that Gardy will be rescued, but there's a reason why he hasn't been rescued yet. As I continue to tell you the story about how Operation Underground Railroad got involved with the search for Gardy, it's almost a prophecy fulfilled, what happens.
Real quick, to be clear, first Tim Ballard got involved in searching for Gardy. And during that search, Operation Underground Railroad was born.
Yes. Because of that search, it was born.
I tried to, first, investigate this case as a government agent, but like I said, there just wasn't any leads. I mean... There really wasn't any leads except for this one orphanage that I couldn't get a hold of the case file. You don't just call Haiti and say, "Hey, can you send the case file?" There is no federal agencies, law enforcement agencies, like Homeland Security or FBI; they didn't exist in Haiti. Trying to get the case file would have been... I tried to, but no one could get it for me. The way Haiti works is you gotta just show up at places and be persistent until you get to the boss, and then you ask the boss, and then he can make a decision. So, I needed to get boots on the ground to even verify the validity of whatever lead we had, particularly this illegal place, that according to Guesno, held children, and that Gardy had been trafficked through that place. So, I tried to get down there and I just couldn't. I knew I wasn't going to be able to, there just wasn't enough information...the crime, even though it was a U.S. Citizen, had occurred in Haiti under Haiti jurisdiction... The-the-the-the-um Federal agents had gone down in the wake of that, like I said, but they found nothing and came home, and they just turned the case over to the Haitian police. And that was it. That was it. So, because I'd made the promise to Guesno that night, I told him, "I will do everything I can do to... and I will never stop looking, until we find your son". And I had made that promise, and then here I am completely unable to fulfill that promise. Because I opened the case on it, I couldn't go down on my own dime and my own time... It would've been a major conflict, and against policies, and... I wouldn't have been able to use any government contacts I had...and so, because it wasn't an authorized investigation, an authorized trip, to go down there. So I knew the only way that I was going to be able to fulfill the promise to Guesno was to leave the government altogether and go down as private organization, as a private investigator.
And so, I'm assuming you tapped big reserves of cash and that you had sitting there.
Oh yeah, I had a... The government pays me quite a bit with my bonuses, and...no. [scoffs]
And your stock options...
And stock options and, you know, Uncle Sam provides. So...so yeah, we had no money.
What I'd like to do here... And I love this, how it's building... You make a promise, and in order to fulfill his promise, you've got to give up everything. In searching for this little boy, everything comes back in droves, and you're still searching. It's a...yeah. Talk about the birth, a little bit, of Operation Underground Railroad, because it fits. Those that watch The Abolitionists, the movie that's coming out May 16th, you've got to understand that there's more to the Gardy story, like the birth of Operation Underground Railroad.
Right. That's right.
So, go with, kind of the... Let's go long-form here. Just give me how it was born, in context of Gardy.
Well, I'll say this... We've talked a little bit up about Colombia, there were... It really was two cases that birthed the Underground Railroad. It was Gardy, and then also a promise I had made to Colombia, to the Colombian authorities, as a government agent that we would come and execute this plan that we had designed to rescue kids in Cartagena. So, both of those were weighing on me.
So, personally, your personal integrity was being compromised by constraints in your current position.
Yeah, and it was naïve and foolish of me to make the promises, frankly.
Or inspired. One or the other. Often, those are one in the same, right? So, um...uh... Yeah, we've talked about Colombia, but this... Both of those together birthed Operation Underground Railroad.
Colombia fail op, actually, right? That was your first op, we talked about before?
Yeah, that was the very first operation in Colombia... That was a plan that had actually been planned a year earlier, or maybe more than a year earlier, when I was as a government agent in Colombia, training federal police down there on how to do trafficking cases, and we have decided that we would, instead of just doing the training, that we would actually do a case. And I promised we'd be back to execute, and then I couldn't get back. So, it was it was a similar situation in both these cases, and are happening at about the same time. I can't go to Haiti and help Guesno, and I can't go to Colombia to help the Colombian federal agents.
And when you got to Colombia, you weren't allowed to... The case got stymied, right? It got shut off? It was a technical failure?
And you're taking us to Haiti, here in the second, where, in terms of objectives... We didn't come home with Gardy, and it's interesting... Two kicks in the teeth, right off the bat...
Yet, you plow through.
It's cool. So keep going with Gardy.
So, we go to Port-au-Prince, because of the police station, we open the case file. Sure enough, there's plenty of leads. Guesno's right. This orphanage is illicit, if you can call it an orphanage... This place where children are being kept is most certainly a [pause, stutters] prime suspect.
Several reasons. One had to do with the fact that when Gardy went missing, the-the-the-the, um leader of the organization, this orphanage started showing up, and they knew each other. There was an acquaintance there, which is usually how kidnappings happen.
She went to Guesno's church.
Yes. She went to Guesno's church.
She was one of the members of his flock.
That's right. And that's usually how these things happen, unfortunately. It's usually someone who knows... They know, they have an inside angle. So she starts showing up randomly, like, after, like, snooping around, like, showing up with the family when they're meeting with the police, and they're just like, "Why are you here? We don't know you that well..." Like, why? And then the police turned on, started investigating her, and she just disappeared... Stopped coming to church. At the same time, they made an arrest in the case of another flock member, who actually worked for Guesno at the orphanage, and was fired for embezzling money. Interestingly enough, he ends up being the one who, dead to rights, was the one who actually did the physical kidnapping of Gardy, and then gave him to a bunch of thugs. His thought was that they were just going to ransom the kid off, and they knew from phone records that it was clearly him who was making the calls back to Guesno for ransom. He thought they're going to ransom the kid off, get him back, and he would have got his revenge on Guesno. But what happened was the thugs did ransom him off, took the money, and then kept the kid to sell him to make more money, and then threw this flock member, Carlos, to Guesno... Oh, I'm sorry, to the police, and they ended up arresting him. He still in jail. And while he's going to jail, he's... From jail, he's calling who? He's calling Yvrose, who is the director of this illegal orphanage.
The woman that is snooping around...
Yeah, the woman that's snooping around, and then disappears, and is acting all weird... He starts calling her. She's the point of contact. We don't know what those phone conversations were, but those phone conversations were very active in the wake of the kidnapping. All roads lead to this woman, and she's up to no good. Carlos is in jail. The thugs, you don't know who they are exactly, but they have Gardy eventually, but... We have to find out, does this woman... If she and the business of taking kids and selling them in the black market? Because that would make sense, if that's what she's doing. Her orphanage was illicit, she couldn't adopt kids... She didn't have a license to adopt kids.
And it's not like she was just getting them to take care of them Mother Teresa style.
As we'll get to, that was no sanctuary.
Oh, no. That was a doghouse. That was a doghouse. So, she lived OK. She had her own little apartment on the premises, and she had another house outside of the orphanage, too, and she was doing just fine. It's the kids who were living in the doghouse. So, so, we goes down, we end up with the blessing and authorization of the Haitian national police... They signed up to work under them... And they send us into the orphanage with hidden cameras to just see what's going on here. We kind of just show up, she's very suspicious at first, but we said, "Look, word on the street is that this is where you can get kids".
And this is just...this is you and an interpreter, right?
And you. You were there.
I went... You had been there before by now.
Yeah, that's right. We have been there before.
So, you went and scouted about...
Yeah, we went up and just said, "How do you... Word on the street is that you've got kids." So we came in exactly like a trafficker would come in. We didn't come in and say we're going to take these kids and sell them into sex slavery or slave labor, but a trafficker wouldn't do that. He'd just come in and say, "I hear this is... If you want kids, this is where you come get them." And she said, "Yes, that's exactly right." And then we let her tell us, "Well how does this work?" And she was not shy about it. Adoption wasn't an option. She didn't even lay it out there. In fact, we forced the issue and said, "Well, why don't you do it legally?" She's like, "Aw, you don't want to do that. That's not... It's just real easy, just give me $10,000." And she ended up raising the price the next day to $15,000 dollars. "Just give me cash and pick your kid." These kids weren't documented. There is no evidence that they even existed, because that's how she would get them. There was no legal process by which she got them, she just gathered them. So, we went back to the police and said you won't believe this...she, she... You're right! She is suspect number one, because she is selling kids. The fact that you believe she had Gardy is very credible. This is her M.O. They sent us back in to do the deal, and we went in and picked these... They said, "Pick a kid. Buy him. Look at the evidence, and we'll shut them down and get the kids out there."
K, so, let's narratively go into this joint... You've got a couple of undercover Haitian police specialist detectives, one woman, and another man that was posing as our tour guide, and another guy that was posing as the van driver. These guys, you know, we talk about government corruption, and it's probably a little more rampant in Haiti, and business is good for traffickers in Haiti. For these guys to stand up and take on trafficking is really bold.
So, they were there, there are a couple of abolitionists there, there was a former marine there, who was a girl, and this is when I met Tim. I was working at The Blaze as a journalist, and he invited me to come down to verify, say "Hey, I want to show your organization that we're legit. And I was working for The Blaze for Glenn Beck at the time, and he said, "Ok, we're going to send Mark". Boom. I get sent. I'm with Tim, and that's really how we... we'd met before that, but...
That's why we're here.
We all walk in.
We all walk in. Not all those people you named, some of them were just outside security, and, but...
So we go in and we make the deal, and we buy these kids. While we're going in, this time, unlike the first time, I picked up one of the kids and I was holding him and I'm walking around, and I'm looking for Gardy. Is Gardy in here? Is there a possibility? So I walked through every nook and cranny of this place, but, the best I can, they were walling me off to see everything...
We're taking pictures of every child's face.
Yeah, every child's face. Maybe one of them is Gardy. But, ultimately, we came back, and, and, um, it was a really... This movie is captured in the movie. Or, this scene is captured in the movie, where I go back and tell Guesno, and I'm like...
Wait, you skipped... Filled in a little bit, first.
No, I didn't skip.
You didn't skip?
What did you tell...
I go back, this is before... This is before there's a rescue.
Oh, before we did anything.
I go back to Guesno and I tell him, "We went there... Gardy was not there that we could see, but she sells kids." And Guesno instantly just, falls apart. He just starts crying. And he says, "She sold... She sold my son. She probably sold my son." And I said - again, this is in the movie - I tell him, "Yeah, but, but we can... This is how... This is our lead. We get her in the hot seat, we interrogate her, and make her tell us, 'What did you do with Gardy? Did you traffic Gardy, too?'" And you know, the key is getting her in the hot seat, because she's about to sell kids to us. So, Guesno's very encouraged, he's excited about this, and then he... And this tells you about Guesno, and he instantly turns and he says, "And you've gotta get those kids out. They're suffering. I know they're suffering," he said. Later on, he would tell me, he would say, you know, "If I never find Gardy, but Gardy's kidnapping is what brought you here and rescued these 28 kids who are for sale... That's a burden I'm willing to bear for the rest of my life."
And, that tells you a lot about who this... Who this guy is, and like I said, he sees a bigger plan. He still believes we'll find Gardy, and we believe that. We're operating under the belief that we will find him. But in the meantime, all the good that comes from this... And so much good has come from that looking for this little boy, not the least of which is the 28 kids that we were able to pull out of a trafficking situation.
So, we go in, do the deal, pull the kids out. You can see the whole thing in The Abolitionists, so we'll skip those parts and really go for the parts that aren't there that much. You get Yvrose in the hot seat, which is represented, finally. The Haitian authorities get her in the hot seat, and we're sitting in one room, she's in the next room over... She thinks that we're all arrested, at this point, because we all went down. Yvrose is sitting there getting interrogated... an interesting twist is that her daughter was visiting, who had lived in Brooklyn, correct?
She lived in, yeah, the United States.
She lived in the U.S., she was visiting, and when we went in to buy the children, we said, "Hey, you've got to come back to our hotel to do the deal." She goes, "Ok." She tells her daughter what's going on, daughter fully knows mom's selling kids and these Americans have a ton of cash...
And we approached the daughter, too, to make sure, because, we were kind of like, "Hey, don't come, don't come. Do you know what's going on?" And then she says, "I know exactly what's going on."
She's like, and I said to her, "Is this dangerous?" She's like, "Are you kidding me? This is totally illegal. We could go to jail for this."
I was like, "Alright, well, you're helping... You want to come, if you want to come on, and you know this... I'm trying to help you, sister, but you're in, so..."
And we're in the hotel room, this is the crazy thing, right? We're talking to Yvrose, and you ask, "Have you done this before? How... How would we get these kids out of the country?" She goes, "Oh, I did this before, not long ago... About five years ago," which is when...
Which is when Gardy was taken.
...when Gardy was taken. She said, "You're going to get on the boat... Who is this woman? Do you trust her?" She points at the woman who was kind of there as our...
She was an undercover police officer for Haiti, yeah.
She was undercover, that she was kind of, just, our helper. Our Haitian friend.
Yeah, we told Yvrose that this woman was the nanny that we hired to take care of the kids while we smuggle them out of the country.
And so, she goes, "Ok. Those kids are going to call her Mama." And she's try-
She knew exactly what she... She had done this before.
Yeah. So, and the sad thing is, so everyone hops into the van, we drive clear back to Port-au-Prince, up into this big, opulent hotel suite that we got for the occasion, to pull off the ruse, wired with cameras all over the place, and she calls the little kids in and goes, "Hey," um, she calls the kids and goes, "This is Mama.".
That's her name.
That's her name. Call her Mama...kids are like, "Mama, Mama..."
Good, good, good job! Yeah...
Yeah. And, um, that's how we were going to get them out of the country. She was orchestrating this whole deal soup to nuts... Full service.
Yeah, and she gave us several other tips and smuggling routes: how to get out, what to say, what to do. And she kept telling us, "Don't worry, I've done this before. But you can't get caught - we'll all go to jail - but here's what you gotta do."
And she's... So, you're slapping down. And this is something indelible in my head. I'm watching Tim slap down $20,000...thump, thump, thump... $100 at a time. As her eyes are getting bigger and bigger...
And she has no idea who we are.
And she knows better. And I actually had a very...very educated person who came to me after seeing an early clip of this operation, and made this comment that just, like, blew my mind. This person said you know, um, "I don't see what the big... I don't really see a big deal. I mean, if I was down there, I might buy a kid just to get him out of hell too..." And I thought, "WHAT?! Are you... What are you talking about?! No, you wouldn't! Because then what are you going to do next? You're going to smuggle this kid into your country? You're going to have an illegal person... child... in your house? You're going to have to hide them their whole lives? They're totally illegal... Are you kidding me?" And, um, and...and, because he was almost trying to defend Yvrose. Like, "She's just trying to get them a better life!" BULLCRAP! She knows exactly... She knows that decent people do not buy children.
And getting them a better life... Take us, real quick, what happened the next day, when we saw footage from the inside of the orphanage. The stuff that we didn't see before, on the bust. Talk about their quality of life.
Oh wait, I want to finish what I was saying before you rudely cut me off, though.
Come on... I always do that. Arg!
You do that often. Um, [pause] this woman knew that the only people that would come to buy children... There's two million children in the sex... Forced into sex slavery. There is... That number is double or triple, over five million, close to six million or more, who, if you include the slave labor. This is a huge business. She knows what she's doing. People come to buy kids to put them into slavery. Sex slavery or slave labor, and they do not come to buy a kid so they can raise a kid and bring that kid into their family. That's not how it works. Decent people do it the right way, because they actually want to have a family that's legal and lawful and they raise this child in a good place, with laws and with order. The fact that she doesn't ask one question, only encourages us to buy, buy, buy, don't even think about adoption, buy, buy, buy... We could have been anybody. And she knew that. We could've been pedophiles, in the child pornography industry. We could have been owners of a plantation somewhere that needed kids to work. Usually it's a combination of both, frankly, if you buy someone you're going to use them for sexual exploitation and labor, and that's the bottom line. The evil runs deep here. And she knew it. There's no way that she didn't know it.
And... Where do you want to go?
So, so we end up, we end up busting them, thank goodness. They go to jail and the kids get liberated. The next day after the operation, we go back into the orphanage with the police and now we can really see everything, and this is what you see, is the kids had a steady diet of flour and water. That's all there was in the place.
With maggots... It was the most disgusting thing... The little children that we bought in the operation, the little siblings, the boy in the girl, Colé and Coline, they thought they were two and three years old. Turns out they were more like five and six years old, but they didn't know that until they got 'em into a place where they actually fed them food. It's amazing what food does. You know. It makes a big difference, in, in, in your...in your growth. In your general health. I mean, to think that kids could be identified as two years younger than they are simply because they don't eat...so, uh, so we were able to, uh, to get them out, and then during that operation, as you see in the movie, we go back, we get her in the hot seat and she's admitted that she stole the kids finally, to the police.
After like, two hours...she breaks down.
Yeah, after, after...she finally breaks and says yes. And again, we didn't need her confession... It helps the case, but we didn't need it, because it was all on video. It was very clear that she was selling the kids. She's lying, lying, lying for an hour or two, and then she finally admits it. And now, she's in such trouble, and that's when we come in with, "Ok, now where's Gardy?" And we know she knew who Gardy was, but she acted like she didn't know him. She was like, "I don't even know what you're talking about... I don't know that boy". And again, we know she's lying, because we know she knows that boy.
She went to church with that boy.
She went to church with him. She knew that boy. It was a big deal, she was snooping around during the investigation, but she's like, "I don't even know what you're talking about... I don't know that boy." At that point, she... We tried and tried and tried and tried, and she was done. She was already in such big trouble that she was not about to confess to one more crime. But we were trying to... The police were trying to leverage the daughter, saying, "We can make a deal with you... You want your daughter to get a light sentence, here? Do you want us to go easy on your daughter? Or do you wanna tell us where Gardy is?" And she just went cold. Just, wasn't about to do anything to harm herself any further, and so she shut her mouth and said "I'm done talking."
She sold her daughter down the river.
That's right. That's right.
Man... In... To... What's going on in the other side of this is you've got Guesno not knowing exactly what happened, except for... What's happening on the other side is Guesno is at home waiting and praying that [edit out background noise from Tim's mic here?]...[Tim clears throat] that Tim's going to come back with a confession about what happened to Gardy, and Yvros goes icy cold. It was one of the emotional lows of this story, is we go back to the hotel, Guesno comes to meet us, and Tim has to tell him... has to tell Guesno that we have nothing.
We go back to the restaurant, Guesno's on his way, you get to break to him the news that she gave us nothing.
So, we're sitting at this dinner table, everybody's dejected.
I wouldn't say we're dejected, we just rescued 28 kids.
We did, but there was...
It's bittersweet. Thank you. That's a better word. Now take us to the conversation.
So Guesno comes in and he's hopeful that we're going to say, "We have a lead, we know where he is." And he's sitting there... But, again, back to Guesno, first and foremost, he was concerned about those kids. "Are they safe? Are they... What's going on? Is she selling them?" "Yes, yes, yes." He can't believe it. Even then, he can't believe it, even though he's the one who led us to that place. He's like, "Really? She actually... she actually admitted that she was selling kids?" It's like, "Yes, she did." And then I had to tell him, when we got to Gardy, she denied knowledge that he even existed. And instantly, and you see this in the movie, instantly, he just... His complete person just shuts down. Just, you just see a little... One more piece of his soul dies, yet again. And he just sinks. I just try to speak words of encouragement to him, you know, I'm like "We're still closer, we're still going to go back to the orphanage, we're going to look around, maybe some of the older kids recognize him... We'll show pictures of him..." And he's just...he is dejected at that point.
And, um, Guesno leaves. And this is a behind-the-scenes memory that I've got on one of my little cameras. For those that listened to the podcast, there are people, by now, by episode wherever-this-is, you understand that it's a God-fearing organization with faith. Not necessarily a religious organization, but one where faith plays a role. I remember, probably a 75-second speech that you gave that night, because it was bittersweet, and we were all sitting around the table and it's... The operators... Man, we've got Navy Seals we've got former CIA guys, we've got filmmakers, and you say... You say at that point, the gist of your speech was "If you have an impure soul, I don't want you here."
Ha! That's right.
Do you remember that?
I do remember that.
You said, "We've got to be pure, and stand with some confidence before God if we're ever going to bring this child home." Do you remember that speech?
It was incredibly telling about your approach to abolition of this great evil and probably reinforcement of the mission of this...what was now Operation Underground Railroad, at that point.
Um, and just kind of a cool sidelight that happened on that trip. So, take us from there. Continue on the Gardy-finding journey.
So, things kind of... We find no leads. No one's talking, no one claims to recognize Gardy, but no one talks. That's what I've learned about this. No one in Haiti talks. We went back to the church and interviewed every single person that was there that Sunday that Gardy was taken, and no one would talk. Guesno said that, like, a year later, even his closest congregation members finally came to him and said, "We did see Gardy taken by a motorcycle driver."
And that would be Carlos, possibly.
Yeah, Carlos was part of that. He-he- brought... He led Gardy over to the motorcycle. Gardy knew Carlos, and so he trusted him, and then handed him to the trafficker. A woman saw it happen... It took a year for her to admit, because they don't talk. They're scared of getting involved, because when you get involved in things like this, you get killed. So no one talks.
And leads is shut down, completely shut down. The irony is, like, so bright... The sad irony. Here's Guesno saying, "If I lose my child to save these children, it's worth it." Which, for me as a dad, probably for you as a dad, I would give my life before I'd give my child's life. And I'm sure Guesno's even the same way. So for somebody, out of fear, to not report...to not risk their life to report this little boy getting stolen... Doesn't make a whole lot of sense. And it's a super sad...
It's sad, because Guesno's willing to risk his life, not just for Gardy, but for those 28 kids, and all kids.
And risk his son's life.
There's actually some analogy here to New Testament doctrine.
Yeah, I think we're writing... I think this is like C.S. Lewis stuff, at this point...
Yeah, this is like Abraham, Isaac... Kind of...
Atonement of Christ, kind of...
It's amazing. What a test for this man. So, let's go on to the narrative, onto finding Gardy.
So, we get, we actually, through prayer and just seeking a miracle, we get one. Someone finally comes forward. More than one person, frankly, comes forward, and says we've seen Gardy. We've seen Gardy, he's in a slave labor camp, or slave labor area, and this is where we've seen him. We were able... There's a lot of things we can do, and we're trained operators, we know how to corroborate intel, even without finding Gardy in this area, if they told us enough things about the area, we can prove if they were there. We can prove that they saw something. They saw enough that we corroborated to know that this is a very trustworthy source of information. That's where we're at now.
And this is about six months later. That's the time that has passed. In the meantime, with the steam you built finding Gardy, because the 28 kids actually got some press. And with that press, came funding of more operations, and in that six month period, Operation Underground Railroad grows. You've busted dozens of more traffickers, saved dozens of more children in different countries, and increased awareness of the cause, just because you're looking for Gardy.
That's right. And...and-and this is ...back to Guesno. I'm willing to... "I'm willing to give up my son to rescue children." And he has rescued children, by doing what he did, by losing his son, and by encouraging the growth of Operation Underground Railroad. He has rescued many others. He is part of that.
Absolutely. So, intel... We head back to Haiti.
We go back to Haiti, and what happens is... we're in the middle of this right now, so it's all about infiltrating this certain region where... And what are we finding? More than 28 kids who are slave labor, and we're able to document them, where they are, what they're doing, how they're being treated. We're sending intel reports to our embassies on both sides of the border of Dominican Republic, which shares the island with Haiti. We're in the process of gathering a whole bunch of intelligence, and we're doing anything we need to do to legally infiltrate working with the Haitian national police.
And, a while back, we reported on a story, Operation Underground Railroad reported on a story about a mission to a small village in Haiti that for me was pretty freaky, I don't know about for you... Tell us... And this is when we went down, identified this place, you corroborated the information, we came up with a plan, we were going to go to this village that was seriously so remote that you could disappear and nobody would find us.
Um. Tell us... Just give us a... Take us into some of that mission.
So, what we did was, we needed to find a reason to be there, legitimately, so we got some doctors, we actually partnered with a legitimate non-profit organization in Haiti that does medical clinics... They knew what we were doing, the Haitian police knew what we were doing... And we brought a clinic into this village. I don't believe Gardy is actually in this village, but this was a village that we could gather intel, because at this point, we're not just looking for Gardy. At this point, because of the intel we got, we're looking for kids who are being trafficked, because they're being trafficked all over the place, for sex, for labor, so we're just gathering intel. So what we did was set up a medical lab, real doctors, over 500 people show up and get treated. The doctors told us that they actually saved lives. These people... And some of them, they're not all bad, I mean, most of them are good family people, and families who have never seen a doctor, and so we're treating them, which in and of itself made the whole mission worth it, just to help these people out, medically, but the real reason for going was to get intel. Again, not just about Gardy, but all the kids, so we have all these kids start showing up and we start talking to them afterwards, as kind of their post-checkup interview, and we actually brought Guesno out... He didn't know that we had the intel, because I'm so tired of hurting this man, putting him on this roller-coaster, so we don't even want to tell him that we're looking for Gardy, that we have intel on Gardy unless we have to tell him. So his job is to do the post-interview stuff, because we're thinking, man, there's hundreds of kids coming through this clinic, if one of them is Gardy, he'll recognize him and we won't... In the meantime, we're talking to these kids and, "Who are your parents?" Like, "I don't have parents." "How were you brought here?" "I dunno, I was just always here." Well, yeah, because they were kidnapped just like Gardy was. "What do you do?" "Well, a truck picks us up, takes us over to the Dominican, and we cut sugar, or we pick avocados, and they bring us back." "Well, do they pay you?" I mean, these kids are 10 years old.
"Nope." "Uhhh... How do you eat?" "Well, we just get passed around from village to village, or from house to house, hut to hut, and hopefully they give us some food." Well, because the adults are on the take. They're the ones making the money, so they just round up ten kids, and they get paid whatever they get paid, whether it's in product or some kind of fee per head, and that's called slavery.
And, if I can paint a picture for just a sec, because I was there to photograph... We drove into the village at the crack of dawn. The sun was rising as we were getting to the overlook of this village, and when it finally rose, what we saw was South Carolina circa 1840. I mean, little shacks with naked children bathing in steel tubs outside, people hoeing in tiered gardens, digging up carrots and whatever... The occasional stray mule. But it was plantation-style.
Yeah, and the reason, even more to your point to this analogy of sl-... It's culturally accepted. These kids are called restaveks, and it's the same justifications that were used in the 19th century to tolerate slavery, are being used here. Oh, it's a better life for them. Yeah, we own 'em, yeah, but at least we're feeding 'em...you know, it's better than they could expect anywhere else...
And it's a class, right?
What do you mean?
There's two classes of kids that we saw.
Oh, absolutely. You walk into a village, you know which ones are the slave kids. Which ones are the restavek kids, and which ones are, you know...they're totally... You're dressed differently, they're sad, their countenances are different, and we have... We're getting intel all the time, right now, and I can't... There's other tactics we're using that I can't reveal right now because I think we're getting closer to Gardy and other rescues in this area...
Thousands of rescues in this area.
Thousands... And we need the Haitians on board, though, before, before we can, um, do anything. It's a very sensitive situation, because we're fighting a culture. Even though it's against the law in Haiti to enslave people, it's still a cultural situation that's very, very difficult. They've never had the resources to do anything about it anyway, so they never...they don't think about doing anything about it. But here we are, coming in and putting the ideas in their head, "How are we going to do this? How are we gonna...How are we..." Again, Gardy becomes the hook, right?... Gardy keeps us there, because we want to find him, but we can't help but help these other kids when we find them, too. It's going to take some time. Right now, all we can do is gather the intelligence, give it to our embassies, give it to our government partners, and slowly devise a plan. There is no question about it, this is... slavery is alive and well in Haiti, and it involves children...it involves you know, we see the kids, the girls are taken into Dominican or other places and forced into sex trafficking; the boys, some of them get pushed into sex trafficking, a lot of them, most of them, become slave labor victims. That's what we're up against, and we're in it. That's where we are right now. There's a, um...At one point during that medical clinic, we recognized that we needed to tell Guesno, because he needed really to be looking for Gardy, and it was a hard decision, and it's probably the most emotional scene... It's in one of the episodes. The Abolitionists crew actually caught it. We took him into our car, and said, "Guesno..." because he kept asking me, I thought you guys were a rescue organization, I didn't know you were a medical group...
But he was totally there helping kids get healthy.
He was only there to help.
Was not thinking about Gardy.
Mm-mmm. Wasn't even thinking about it. And he kept saying, he kept telling me, "Why are you guys doing this?" I'm like, "Ah, you know, we like to help any way we can." He's like, "Oh." Well, I finally get him in the car, and say "Guesno, I've got to come clean with you. We're here because we have intelligence." And I gave it to him... It's off the camera, because we can't reveal our sources, but, and I said, "We have helicopters on standby, over on the Dominican side... These cops are here, there's undercover cops here that are carrying guns... We are all here because we think Gardy's here and we're here to rescue him." And the spirit that filled that car...and-and-and-and-and-and-and instantly, Guesno, just... just a flood of tears. But they weren't, they were, there actually, it was, it was emotional, not bad, I mean, it was actually...he said, "I have never felt so much hope, since Gardy's been taken. I've never felt so much hope that I feel right now." And he told me that, before that had happened, he had a spiritual manifestation he didn't tell us about. He believed he saw this little boy that was Gardy's age... It wasn't Gardy, but seeing that boy... He said something whispered to him, "Gardy's here. Gardy's here." And so when he heard me say that, it was like full corroboration about why we were actually there, and it was a flood of emotion. When that episode comes out someday, people will see this scene. And then, as we drove out, you remember, you were there, you actually took a Pulitzer-Prize-winning photo...
One of the best photos of my career...
Of Guesno... A tear-filled Guesno, as he's turning around talking to the police officer, who's pledging life and limb to never rest until we'll go back to that place and pull Gardy out. Find him, and pull him out.
Ok, now, why were we leaving the village, and under what circumstances were we leaving the village?
We left the village because... After we had serviced, medically, most of the people, the traffickers, who also were getting medical attention, they decided that now is the time to take advantage of us. They got what they needed out of us, now, let's steal their car. Let's kill a couple of them. And this mob mentality started to evolve, and we were surrounded by this group with machetes.
At least... a lot of them with machetes, shotguns, and they were not going to let this go. And the village Elders kind of had a council, as you recall, and they came back and they said, "Look, we think you're great. We think you're innocent, but we can't control this mob, so good luck." And we just prayed our way through that one. I mean, we just prayed, and prayed, and prayed until finally, five gunmen turned to three, turned to two... blocking the road, and then we just went for it, and luckily they... Luckily they didn't fire, because... And we just got out of there, and... We've since been back, with different faces, under a different situation. So, we're back, we're there, they just don't know it's us.
So, as we are leaving, Jean-Paul, who is the cop, who is just a wild, ferocious cop gets famous in Port-au-Prince for taking down big criminals and being so aggressive, but he ends up being this tender-hearted guy who puts his hand on Guesno's shoulder, and just... We could all understand him even though we don't speak Creole.
And, you know, Guesno was a little bit dejected because he's just got driven out by gunpoint from the place where he believed his son was. He now sees the babysitters of his children, and he was a little dejected. We all were a little dejected, and that's when Jean-Paul does what you're saying, hand on shoulder... Guesno turns around, like, tears in his eyes, Jean-Paul's just yelling, "We will find your son! We will find your son!". And, uh...Incredible.
And Guesno says at that point, once again, he says, "I have never been so full of hope."
And, it was Haitian?
It was the best day of his life, he told me, "This is one of the best days of my life, because Gardy's here. He's alive. We're going to find him."
And he was being told by a Haitian that he would find his son...
Right, and he didn't hear that very often.
And once again, you've started a fire in a country where the people are now taking over. Do you want to pause?
55:27 Tim: Yeah, I gotta go. 55:28 Mark: Oh, crap, we're leaving? All right. 55:29 Tim: I gotta go. 55:30 Mark: Part 2, coming up, next time on Slave Stealer. [move this to end, or delete?] 0:02 Mark: Alright. Um, Tim was just literally dragged out of the room by um, by our team, and I, uh, know that we are leaving you here with possibly the worst podcast ending of all time...as we're driving out of the village, and, um, emptyhanded, without Gardy. As it stands, there are searches going on, intel being gathered in the area that is unprecedented, and our guys are discovering things and getting access that has never been gotten before. And so, um, we're going to leave Gardy and this story right here at the cliffhanger moment, and I think it's sufficient to say that the search for Gardy has indirectly, and in some cases directly, yielded over, um, 500 children pulled out of slavery over the last two years. 200 traffickers around the world, put behind bars... Um, and that continues. And I can speak for Tim, that he will not rest... He's already given so much to that promise to find Gardy that... That it'll continue and grow exponentially. And so, for Tim, who's now on his way to downtown Boston for an important meeting, I'm Marc Mabry, this is the Slave Stealer Podcast.