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The Lunchbox Commandos

Sometimes the Merc Fantasy Just Sucks

In 2019, a crack commando unit was put in prison by Haitian police for a crime they didn’t commit. After three days, these men promptly escaped (or were rescued) and flew to Miami. Today, still unwanted by the government they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire … The H-A-iti-Team. (Apologies and a nod to the genius of Stephen J. Cannell.) Clockwise left to right: Chris Osman, Chris Heben aka McKinley, Haitian President Jovenal Moise, and team leader Kent Kroeke.


The Haiti gig was a lifeline to a half-dozen men: $10K up front, $20 at the back end. Not bad, for merc work: $2K a day for BYOG (bring your own gear) and the promise of an open-ended discussion on what might come next if things turned out well. The seven-man team all saw dollar signs in the new Haitian president’s desperation.

According to media reports, their first task as laid out by the Haitian businessmen was to provide a PSD (private security detail) to transfer $80 million left in a looted Venezuelan oil fund so a political rival couldn’t get his hands on it. Once these funds were secured, the next project would, allegedly, pay them to go after the leader of the riots. They had a plan for that. They’d “shake the tree.” Take out, shoot, or capture riot instigators and work their way to the top to find out who was behind the violence. They never got the chance.

BANKING ON IT

This story, at its simplest, began on the 17th of February during a noisy Sunday in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Riots and looting had been ongoing for a week. The U.S. State Department warned Americans to stay away. Around 2 p.m., the three-car convoy moved up toward the main bank in Port-au-Prince and asked to be let in.

The team’s equipment seized by the police in Haiti included several flavors of AR-15s, Glocks, blades, and comms gear.

Inside the first vehicle was a well-known Haitian politician named Jean Fritz Jean-Louis. He ran the recent election campaign of newly installed President Jovenel Moise. Beside him was the head of the bank, who insisted to the guards they had important business. To anyone on this island, Sunday afternoon would be an odd time to visit Haiti’s central bank.

The senior Haitians managed to get to the outside of the Banque de la République d’Haïti, or the BRH, before the bank security guards called the cops. Behind them in a Prado and a Ford were an odd group of foreigners with white faces. The vehicles also didn’t have license plates. When the Haitian cops looked inside, they saw white men … with guns. Whatever plans those hired guns had up to this point came to a full stop. During the two-hour standoff, police noticed a fourth vehicle that was trailing the convoy, but watched it pull away. Clearly something was up.

More evidence photos shared by the Haitian police.

A quick check of the license plates carried inside the vehicles showed them registered to Jean Louis and Magalie Habitant — another close associate of President Moise. Despite protestations by numerous presidential gophers and friends, the police were having none of the armed men’s story.

After a video was leaked of the men being booked, speculation in Haiti ran rife: were the men hired to rob the bank, assassinate Moise’s opponents, or start a coup? A list of names and addresses of opposition members captured with the men gave rise to the idea the men were also hired to take out opponents of the president.

Rule number one for contract gigs is don’t bring your own gear to somebody else’s fight. Three days in the pokey. You do the math on the cost of the gear lost versus the $10K up front payment.

Unknown to the Haitians, back in a safe house, another American had been on the phone with the seven men when they were rousted — a well-known former SEAL and Baltimore SWAT team member, Mike Phillips. When his phone rang, it wasn’t good news. The team hadn’t even had time to grow a 5 o’clock shadow and they were already going to a third-world jail. He started calling old Haiti spec ops hands back in the States for help. No can-do. Screwed, the former SEAL handed his pistol to a local, stashed his long-gun, and escaped to the Dominican Republic. Two days later, he made it back to the East Coast.

“His” weapons because this A-Team was hired on such short notice that they brought their personally owned weapons with them. Something published in the media, but ignored by U.S. law enforcement. Yeah, they screwed up big time.

The gig was put together so quickly they didn’t actually have a plan B, let alone an exfil plan. Some of the team had flown in heavy from Baltimore on a privately chartered eight-seater and arrived early on the morning of Saturday, February 16. They linked up with two members who’d flown commercial, and in less than 24 hours they were rolled up.

Chris Osman is a well-known figure in the San Diego tactical gear business. Like Chris McKinley, he’s part of the crew of well-known media SEALS who designed and sold gear.

Seven men came here thinking they were going to make some quick cash, and here they were sitting in a Haitian jail, accused of being mercenaries, and their personally owned weapons and gear seized for good measure.

Their mission was to safeguard the bank manager so he could transfer money from one account to another without the greedy prime minister getting his hands on it. Pretty dull for Hollywood. It was the secondary effect of getting arrested that they hadn’t planned for.

When Police Chief Michel-Ange Gédéon told CNN the “heavily armed” men were carrying weapons and posted the pictures, the movie plot was already written.

“Heavily armed” meant a normal PSD load out of six pistols, six automatic rifles, two drones, five ballistic vests, three satellite phones, a telescope, and several license plates. It also included more than a dozen loaded 5.56mm magazines and ballistic vests. The vehicles were described as “armored” and when Voice of America interviewed Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Henry Ceant, he labeled the arrested as “mercenaries” and “terrorists” brought in to destabilize the executive branch of government … meaning him.

THE TEAM

The so-called mercenaries turned out to be 44-year-old former Navy SEAL Christopher Osman, another 49-year-old ex-Navy SEAL, and former 52-year-old Blackwater contractor Christopher Mark Heben, who uses the alias Chris McKinley. The leader of the crew was a 52-year-old former C-130 pilot and Marine, Kent Kroeker. Along for the gig were former Army MP and Blackwater contractor Talon Burton and the big-bearded, 42-year-old Dustin Porte. Porte had done business in Haiti via his company Patriot Group Services and spoke French.

Shoelaces removed and tactical clothing intact, the two Chris’ ponder their fate in a Haitian police station.

There were a Serb and a Russian national and a deported U.S.-resident-turned Haitian local, 39-year-old Michael “Clifford” Estera. Estera was the driver and interpreter and worked as logistics manager for a local construction company called Preble Rish Haiti. He was released eight days later without charges.

Someone from the presidential palace escorted the arrested men to the police station and soon phone calls began. The most vocal was Haitian Minister of Justice Jean Roudy Aly, the overseer of the courts and the police, who ordered the district attorney of Port-au-Prince to obtain the release of the men.

Thankfully, the U.S. State Department’s U.S. Embassy in Haiti stepped in instead of waiting to appear at a court date in Port-au-Prince on Wednesday, February 20, 2018. The Haitian president was unsuccessful in convincing the police to release the mercenaries, and it was only after Aly sent a letter after the U.S. promised the Haitian government that the men would stand trial in the U.S. that they were released.

After trying to explain it away on the ‘gram, Osman deleted his post about the incident and the team went quiet.

What sinister gig were the men hired for? We know some of the team were told to bring their own kit and were told they were working for the president. First on the list was to provide security to transfer the remaining PetroCaribe funds linked to a 2006 deal made with former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. The idea was to go into the bank and sign documents to move the funds away from the control of the prime minister and other officials who were using no-bid contracts to deplete the international aid funds — an odd thing to do on a Sunday in the middle of a rioting Caribbean island.

So the A-Team would provide muscle. There was discussion of other gigs later if this went well. Once President Moïse had the oil money under his control, the lunchbox commandos would be in the green. Osman told the Miami Herald they were working to exfil rich Haitians, and one of the crew had a real contract with the Haitian government. A document that never appeared. But it didn’t really matter during the week they were held.

Working the contractor life isn’t all drudgery. Talon’s team sending out a Christmas greeting from Baghdad via Facebook.

The tertiary effect of the team getting arrested were rumors. Rumors that turned a simple PSD gig into a coup conspiracy in the media. Some said the mercenaries had been in the country since November in the Gonaïves region, the place most uprisings begin in Haiti. Others insisted a helicopter had landed in Les Cayes to spirit the cash from the southern shores of Haiti to Jamaica. Other outlets speculated they were going to use the bank as a roost to snipe at government officials, others insisted a U.S.-backed coup was afoot. The local press ran red hot about “heavily armed mercenaries,” and things weren’t looking good. Luckily, they had top cover.

Joel Casséus, the police chief of Port-au-Prince, had no doubt the men were working for the president, “At one point,” he said, “they told [me], ‘their boss would call our boss.’”

THE CAST, BTS

Meanwhile, when the media started to dig into the backgrounds of the former SEALs, they went full lunchbox hero treatment. Talon Burton was a former cop and partners with fellow Blackwater alumni and brother Dan Burton in Hawkstorm Global. Talon was shuttering his company, selling his personal possessions, and moving from Central Illinois to join his brother Dan, a former JSOC operator who started an executive protection business. Nothing that dramatic in a man with solid background of being a cop and contractor.

Better times in Baghdad. Talon Burton worked for Blackwater in Iraq. Those are the now defunct tranny-snapping Blackwater Grizzlies. The PSD circuit has dried but the bills still need to be paid.

Chris Osman, formerly of SEAL Team 3, was typical of the A-Team lunchbox hero image the media loves. A former Marine artilleryman turned SEAL, graduated with BUDS class #215. He was a San Diego fixture, worked in the tactical gear business for TAG and Trident, had a May 2017 road rage beat down rap, and wrote an obligatory book on SEALs. He later got into a pissing match with Team 3 member Brandon Webb and did a line of clothing for bikers. Pretty standard career path for an ex-SEAL with nice hair and an easily uncovered record of assault.

The call to make a quick buck in Haiti would’ve been exactly what gets the juices flowing. His Instagram account shared news of his rescue following his Haitian vacation, but that post was quickly deleted.

Kent Kroeker’s father was a former stateside police chief and contractor who worked in-country to train the Haitian police. He trained them well enough that they’d know to arrest armed Americans driving around a Port-au-Prince bank on Sunday.

The more sedate Kent Kroeker, of Valley Center, California, seemed to be the one who knew the territory; he was an established businessman, a 12-year Marine, pilot, spoke French, and was familiar with Haiti. He had a Southern California consulting firm with his father who was the son of Mennonite missionaries who raised him in the DRC. Kent’s real love is off-road racing. He owns Kroeker Offroad Racing, KORE, in Orange, California, was involved in charities, and seemed like the last person to be caught carrying weapons in a dangerous area.

Dustin Porte spoke French and was the son-in-law of a former Mandeville Louisana mayor. He had done some business in Haiti as Patriot Group Services but his main line of work was being an electrical contractor.

Kent’s father, Mark Kroeker, had a long history with contracting and Haiti. He had a 32-year career with the LAPD, and as a contractor, UN advisor, and chief of police in Portland, Oregon. As chief of police, he made money contracting as a police trainer in Liberia, the Balkans, and Haiti. In 1994, the senior Kroeker headed a group of police contractors creating the plan for the Haiti National Police after Aristide was restored to the Haitian presidency. That plan was a seminal contract, managed by DynCorp, to provide U.S. police as UN peacekeepers in the troubled nation.

Christopher Heben, aka “McKinley,” the medic and former Quartermaster 2nd Class of SEAL Team 8, had eight years in the teams. Heben represents the classic celebrity SEAL stereotype — someone who served his country in an elite force, went Blackwater to pay the bills, and even worked Global Response Services, aka GRS, the CIA’s bodyguards. His opinions on Benghazi fueled Fox News broadcasts. He appeared in multiple cable shows and his career as a Celeb-u-SEAL seemed guaranteed. Until the ’roids got him.

Michael Philips, the former Navy SEAL lieutenant commander who managed to escape arrest by allegedly fleeing to the Dominican Republic, hired some extra muscle in the form of Serb nationals Danilo Bajagic and Vlade Jankvic. According to Osman, the Sunday drive by was just a recon for the following day. But as Osman dished to the Associate Press about Phillips he suddenly realized he’d revealed the identity of the one guy managed to get away on his own. “He abandoned us,” Osman said.

Heben had brushes with the law. Out of the Navy in 2006, and while working Blackwater stints, he went back to Alliance, Ohio, to work as a physician assistant and racked up three felony forgery charges. According to Ohio’s medical licensing records, he was accused of “forging of prescriptions for controlled substances and using the physician assistant position to facilitate the offenses.” Heben forged a doctor’s signature on anabolic steroid prescriptions for himself and friends and then lied about it after a woman dropped off a prescription to a sharp-eyed pharmacist on April 27, 2007.

The state medical board suspended Heben/McKinley’s license for two years, but he declared bankruptcy in 2011. Then, a group of SEALs shot bin Laden. Suddenly the secretive SEALs were back in demand as celebrity pundits. Then, he gutshot himself.

On March 28, 2014, he insisted he was shot in the stomach by angry black men in Montrose parking lot of Mustard Seed Market in Bath township in Ohio. McKinley claimed he plugged the wound with his finger and drove himself two and a half miles to the fire station for treatment. He posted on Facebook from the Akron hospital:

“Dear Facebook peeps…here’s a quick CMH FYI: I was shot in the stomach Saturday at 1700hrs in a parking lot in Akron OH By 3 ‘gang bangers’ in a tinted widowed car. 9mm or .38. I had to undergo emergency surgery to remove bullet/fragmentation from my stomach and repair some holes in my small intestines. I’m ok! I’m alive…I’m just shot! After I was shot I chased them and got a good vehicle description but no plate read….I was too far behind once I got into my truck and got after them. Then I had to stop the chase….because I was bleeding too badly. I had one hand on wheel and with the other hand had to put fingers in the bullet hole. I drove to a Fire station/Police station for their help….I’m at the hospital now recovering and driving the nurses nuts! What else would you expect?!-CMH”

He then deleted the text when he realized he had earlier reported the incident happened on Friday.

That story made him famous. He was on the news program ABC 20/20 in a recounting of the alleged attack, saying solemnly, “The parking lot was a battlefield.” He caught the attention of the public as a war hero gunned down by gangbangers … until the police filed charges against him for making the story up. The police drove down to the Mustard Seed lot and confirmed that no one heard gunshots that Friday, there was nothing on any of the security cameras, and no trace of blood or shell casings.

The Haitian Police’s list of weapons confiscated from the contractors.

At the time of his shooting, Heben in 2014 was living with his parents and wasn’t getting the kind of traction a man with his skill sets thought he should get. He reinvented himself as “McKinley” due to an obscure family link to the former president and began a career as an Instagram influencer and purveyor of health and lifestyle products as INVICTVS Media & Television Group (IMTG).

Chris Heben, aka Chris McKinley, was a 10-year SEAL who made sure everyone knew he got shot. He told any news outlet that’d mic him up.

In 2015, he self-published a book Undaunted, Life’s Toughest Battles Are Not Always Fought in a War Zone. In April of 2015, his girlfriend filed a protective order. His career as country singer with a pretty decent song called “American Patriot” in 2017 was short-lived. Heben didn’t give up.

Chris Heben, aka McKinley, told Akron, Ohio, police he was shot in the stomach at West Market Plaza during the evening of March 28, 2014. Security cameras and a police investigation found no evidence to support Heben’s claims.

ROLL CREDITS

After rounds of heated phone calls, the men were whisked home in the back of American Airlines flight 1059 to Miami. The plane was delayed as law enforcement boarded and handcuffed the men. But that was just for show. The next day the Miami Herald reported that no charges would be filed.

The City of Miami Police Department Miami-Dade Police Department, the FBI, TSA, and the U.S. Marshal’s Service all denied they had any involvement. A spokesperson for Customs and Border Patrol also had no idea who cuffed the men for the media’s benefit.

Heben went on to promote his shooting and his survival story on TV while Bath Township detectives worked 30 hours a week for five months to find the suspects who never existed.

Federal sources told the Miami Herald the men wouldn’t be charged. The men have been visited by federal authorities and when reached for comment on the event, the members declined to talk about it. Talon told me they wanted to write their own story and Heben said he was “disinclined to be involved.” Osman talked to the Miami Herald and dimed out Michael Philips blaming him for the salacious reports. “We’re not mercenaries. We’re not murderers. We’re just doing security work,” Osman protested.

Jean Baden Dubois, Central Bank governor called B.S. on Osman’s story, saying that the bank had no commercial clients and, more importantly, that any transfer would require both the signature of the Haitian State and the Venezuelan ambassador.

Don’t feel too bad for the gang. Between them, the two Chris’ sites, they still offer hats, shirts, books, watches, and gear for sale. The merch sales might pay for the lost weapons, and we look forward to the next great adventure of the Lunchbox Commandos.


SOURCE

The Intercept | https://theintercept.com/2019/03/20/haiti-president-mercenary-operation/
Miami Herald | https://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/haiti/article228211849.html
Chris McKinley | http://www.chrismarkmckinley.com/shop.html
Chris Osman | https://chrisosmandesigns.com/about-us.aspx

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