Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Haitian abuse 2

Haitians Recount Abuses At Sentencing Of Charity's Founder

NEW HAVEN — In dramatic fashion, about a half-dozen Haitians came forward, one by one, in federal court today to recount being victimized by Douglas Christian Perlitz, the founder of an internationally known charity for homeless boys who is being sentenced on a single charge of traveling abroad for illicit sexual purposes.

The boys talked in front of a packed courtroom, detailing how Perlitz threatened to withhold basic necessities if they did not comply with his request for sexual favors.

The sentencing session began this morning and, after two hours, was still proceeding at midday. Federal prosecutors are seeking a prison term of 19½ years.

One young man, identified only as PG, said Perlitz sexually assaulted him when he was 13 years old. "He said if I don't do it with him, I would never give you money for new sneakers," PG said, speaking through an interpreter,

PG said he was embarrassed about what was happening, but he needed money to live. "Sometimes, I was forced to sleep on the street," he said.

Perlitz, 40, founder and director of Project Pierre Toussaint in Haiti's north coast city of Cap-Haitien, has admitted to sexually assaulting PG, prosecutors said.

The victims, now young men, recounted their experiences in U.S. District Court while standing at a podium, facing the judge, with Perlitz seated behind them.

The guilty plea to a single offense was part of a broader plea bargain agreement that ends a yearlong prosecution of Perlitz, formerly of Fairfield. As part of the plea bargain, Perlitz admitted traveling to Haiti repeatedly between 2001 and 2008 and engaging in illicit sexual contact with eight boys. He previously denied his guilt and aggressively fought the charges.

Project Pierre Toussaint, based in the second-most populous city in the hemisphere's poorest country, offered young boys homes, food, clothing and basic education. It was financed through the Haiti Fund Inc., a registered Connecticut charity. Prosecutors say Perlitz promised boys gifts and money to persuade them to engage in sexual acts with him. Boys who did not comply with his requests, prosecutors said, were threatened with expulsion.

In court papers filed last week, Perlitz claimed an abusive relationship he had with a priest he met while a student at Fairfield University was one factor that drove him to have sex with the boys. The papers, including a 29-page statement apparently filed under seal, do not publicly identify the priest. In the statement, Perlitz attempts to "explain," but not "excuse," his conduct and he takes responsibility for engaging in sexual acts with what he calls "young men" and "young adults," according to prosecutors.

What is known about the 29-page statement comes from references made by prosecutors.

In addition to what he called an "exploitive relationship with an influential priest," Perlitz's legal papers also said Perlitz was confused and ashamed about his sexuality, struggled with his identity, and faced increasing isolation while in Haiti, leading him to "stray from the path" he initially followed.

"These are not offered as excuses; they are simply an effort to help the Court understand how someone with Mr. Perlitz's background and life history could have come to commit the terrible acts for which he must be sentenced," the legal papers said.

In their response to the legal filing, prosecutors wrote, "Perlitz's efforts to minimize his inhumane cruelty by referring to his victims as 'men' or 'adults' is nothing more than a belated attempt on his part to assuage his self-absorbed conscience."

Prosecutors said Perlitz is a predator who founded a residential charity in Haiti because "that is where some of the world's most defenseless children reside."

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