Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Haitian abuse 3

Five of Perlitz's victims detail abuse at his sentencing
Michael P. Maykoand John Burgeson, Staff Writer
Published: 01:41 p.m., Tuesday, December 21, 2010
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Members of the local Haitian community arrive at the Richard C. Lee United States Courthouse in downtown New Haven, Conn. to attend the sentencing hearing for Doug Perlitz on Tuesday December 21, 2010. Photo: Christian Abraham / Connecticut Post | Buy This Photo
Members of the local Haitian community arrive at the Richard C. Lee... Supporters of Douglas Perlitz stand in the lobby of the Richard C. Lee United States Courthouse in downtown New Haven, Conn. as they wait to attend the sentencing hearing for Perlitz on Tuesday December 21, 2010. Photo: Christian Abraham / Connecticut Post | Buy This Photo Supporters of Douglas Perlitz stand in the lobby of the Richard C....

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NEW HAVEN -- Five Haitian boys told a packed federal courtroom this morning of how Douglas Perlitz repeatedly had sex with them and warned them not to reveal those encounters. Perlitz is scheduled to take the stand this afternoon, as a federal judge weighs sentencing for the former humanitarian convicted of one count of abusing a boy at the Haitian charity he founded.

All told, the five boys, now in their early 20s, said the abuse went on for several years and started when they were as young as 11. Some said Perlitz encouraged them to have sex in exchange for money and favors. One boy testified that Perlitz would give him rum and coke to drink before sex.

The boys' testimony was so wrenching that one Haitian man in the gallery broke down in tears. One of the five boys, who were identified only by the initials of their names, said he believed Perlitz had sex with as many as 22 boys at his school and shelter. The boy testified he was pressured by staff there not to reveal the abuse.

Prosecutors want U.S. District Judge Janet Bond Arterton to send Perlitz to prison for more than 19 years, saying he preyed on some of the world's most vulnerable children for years.

The boys said the abuse usually occurred at Perlitz's house but that at least one sexual encounter occurred in his office at the school. Some of the boys testified that Perlitz warned them they would be thrown back on the streets of Cap-Haitien to fend for themselves if they were to disclose the sexual encounters.

When Perlitz entered the courtroom, which was packed with about 150 people, he was wearing a black, V-necked sweater, white shirt and tie and dark slacks, his hair trimmed to a crew-cut. About 15 or so friends and family members were in court to support him.

He is scheduled to testify in his own behalf this afternoon.

Arterton accepted one of the prosecution's arguments for a tougher sentencing for Perlitz -- that his victims were very poor and bereft of any legal and social service protections. But the judge rejected a prosecution assertion that another sentencing "enhancement" should be the threatening remarks Perlitz and his brother made toward prosecutors during phone calls made from prison. Arterton said those remarks did not constitute an actual plot to harm officials.

The Fairfield University graduate has been in prison in Rhode Island since he was arrested on sex tourism charges in September 2009. He pleaded guilty to one count of traveling with intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct.

Perlitz's attorneys urged the court to impose a sentence of 8 to 10 years, saying despite the crimes he also helped street children in Haiti. They also cited a "dark and abusive" relationship he had with a priest when he was in college.

Perlitz -- who graduated from Fairfield in 1992 -- was honored in 2002 with a doctorate and named commencement speaker at the university for his work in Haiti. In addition to his guilty to sexually abusing one of his male students, he acknowledged abusing at least seven others. The school, Project Pierre Toussaint, was set up by Perlitz to educate, feed and clothe homeless street boys in Cap-Haitien, Haiti's second largest city.

In sentencing recommendations filed prior to today, prosecutors and defense attorneys presented sharply conflicting view of how Perlitz had gone from a nationally recognized humanitarian to a man who acknowledged he had sex with his charges.

On Monday, David Grudberg and William F. Dow, III, Perlitz's lawyers, dropped a bombshell in reasoning how their client came to sexually abuse students at his Project Pierre Toussaint, a program to educate, feed and clothe homeless street boys in Cap-Haitien, Haiti's second-largest city. The reasons, the lawyers wrote, include a "dark and abusive relationship," both "physical and spiritual," with an unnamed Fairfield University priest that began in 1988 and continued through the Haiti years.

No individual was identified in the court papers filed by Perlitz's lawyers. But the Society of Jesus, New England Province and Fairfield University announced investigations into the Rev. Paul Carrier, who spent 20 years at the school as an instructor, chaplain and director of campus ministry.

Carrier has not been charged with any crime. He has been suspended by his order.

The prosecution team dismissed the claims by Perlitz's attorneys.

"It is simply inexplicable how any of those three purported explanations (sexual abuse by a priest, stress of working in Haiti and living up to being the face of Christ on earth) could cause anyone, let alone a person who professes to devote his life to those less fortunate, to sexually exploit children," prosecutors responded Thursday. "Rather, the evidence demonstrates that Perlitz began abusing minors in or about 1998 even before the school he founded was constructed.

"Given the evidence in this case, the more plausible explanation is that Perlitz is a sexual predator who traveled to Haiti because that is where some of world's most defenseless children reside; that his relationship with the religious leader provided him with ... connections ... (to) run his own charity where he could control and access children; that the protection Perlitz received from the religious leader and the money that he received in Haiti decreased the likelihood of discovery ... and that Perlitz's position in a community that regarded him as the `face of Christ on Earth' would ensure continued donations and supports of the school," the prosecution team maintained.

Last week, lawyers for Perlitz downplayed threats and disparaging remarks he and a younger brother made against two federal prosecutors in telephone conversations recorded last summer at the Wyatt Federal Detention Center in Rhode Island.

Instead, Grudberg and Dow blamed the heated comments on emotion and frustration stemming from the defendant's arrest, detention and eventual conviction for sexually abusing homeless Haitian boys in a program he established to help them. Prosecutors had said the threats justified giving Perlitz a tougher sentence.

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