Thursday, August 26, 2010

Perlitz pleads guilty

Perlitz pleads guilty
Published: Wednesday, August 25, 2010

By Meg Learson Grosso
Douglas Perlitz, founder of a school for homeless children in Haiti, pled guilty to one count of traveling with the intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct last Wednesday. The Fairfield University graduate admitted that between 2001 and 2008, he traveled to Haiti and engaged in illicit sexual conduct with eight minor victims, according to a press release from U.S. Attorney Thomas Carson.

A grand jury indictment had linked Perlitz with as many as 22 victims.

Perlitz’s lawyer had previously argued, and Judge Janet Arterton had previously ruled, that Perlitz could not be tried in Connecticut, because his travel for sex-related purposes had not commenced in this state. However, he was not released from jail and two days after the judge’s ruling, there was an indictment for Perlitz from the Eastern District of New York where John F. Kennedy airport is located, and from which Perlitz did travel to Haiti.

Perlitz was scheduled to be transferred to New York, where he would have been held in a jail in Brooklyn. Some have speculated that to avoid that fate, he waived his right to a change of venue and pled guilty in a courthouse in New Haven.

“Clearly, Perlitz preferred a cushy private jail in upstate New England than doing jail time in New York,” said Marguerite Laurant of the Haitian Lawyers Leadership Network. She said that the second largest population of Haitians in the United States is in Brooklyn and that many of them were willing to be present in the courthouse for his trial.

A bus load of Haitians had already showed up at the Connecticut bail hearing for Perlitz when, Laurant said, many supporters of Perlitz, also showed up.

At that bail hearing, a Fairfield attorney had offered to have Perlitz stay at his home on Congress Street, however, the judge refused.

A subsequent indictment, issued last April, said that Perlitz’s travels often began in Connecticut and that he frequently stayed here with Fr. Paul Carrier, S.J. , the former chaplain at Fairfield University. It noted that The Haiti Fund, which funded Project Pierre Toussaint, the school and intake center in Haiti, had bank accounts only in Connecticut and Haiti. It noted that Carrier had control over the checkbook for The Haiti Fund, that Carrier frequently bought airline tickets for Perlitz, and that expenses for travel were frequently charged to a credit card in Carrier’s name.

Until last week, Perlitz had maintained his innocence.

Perlitz’s original indictment had surprised many of the supporters of Perlitz who had donated money to help Project Pierre Toussaint, the school and intake center in Haiti. Much of the money was raised by Fr. Paul Carrier, S.J., and it went to the Haiti Fund, which was used to support the Project. An indictment points out that more than $2 million went to this fund between 2002 and 2008.

When Carrier was dismissed by the University as its chaplain a few years ago, he continued to say Mass at various homes in the area and continued to raise money that way. The priest’s present whereabouts are not being disclosed by the Jesuit order.

“Millions of people in Haiti face a daily challenge simply to survive,” stated U.S. Attorney Fein in a press release.

“This defendant preyed on impoverished and powerless street children in Haiti, enticing them with significant benefits such as food, shelter, clothing and education, only to exploit his position of trust and sexually abuse the boys under his care. I commend the extraordinary strength and courage of the minor victims in this case who came forward and spoke out about the abuse that they suffered in order to protect others from harm and so that justice would prevail,” said Fein.

Perlitz also used “the fear of unemployment and the difficult economic situation in Haiti to control and prevent the Haitian staff at PPT from coming forward about the allegations of sexual abuse,” according to the original indictment.

Fairfield University, which did not have any official connection with Project Pierre Toussaint, nonetheless, had honored Perlitz at its 2002 commencement and was the site of much of the fund-raising through its chapel and chaplain.

A statement released by the Office of the President of the University, Fr. Jeffrey von Arx said, “We will not abandon our efforts to help those whose trust Perlitz betrayed.” The statement said that discussions were ongoing with The Haiti Fund board and with the Order of Malta to create a partnership so that the facilities in Cap-Haitien, Haiti, where Project Pierre Toussaint was located, can be reopened.

Sentencing for Perlitz is scheduled for Dec. 21, 2010. At that time, he faces a maximum term of 30 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. He is being held in a jail in Rhode Island.

1 comment:

Loyola_Alum said...

Douglas Perlitz and Rev. Jeffrey von Arx, who held the positions of Fairfield University President and Loyola Marymount University Board of Trustees member, were photographed at Fairfield University’s Bellarmine Hall at the 2006 Fall Convocation. Perlitz, the founder of a so-called humanitarian project in Haiti, in August 2010 admitted to sexually abusing at least eight of his underage students. Perlitz faces up to 19 years in prison. The Jesuit Rev. Paul Carrier, Perlitz's mentor and the former Fairfield University director of campus ministry and community service, touted the Perlitz program through Fairfield University.