Abandoned Children April 28, 2010 By: Chris Simmons
When Fairfield graduate Doug Perlitz first went to Haiti in 1991, it was one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere. This country with a rich heritage, second only to the United States as an independent nation in the new world and the first free black nation, had fallen into a cycle of poverty and turmoil.
The allegations against Perlitz, a 1992 Fairfield graduate and later commencement speaker, over sex abuse involving homeless boys in the Haitian town of Cap-Haitien have only added to the problems.
Perlitz is currently housed in the Wyatt Federal Detention Center in Rhode Island awaiting his Oct. 2010 trial while his accusers are now back on the streets, begging, facing threats and guilt over exposing the alleged abuse.
Cyrus Sibert, a Haitian journalist and talk show host who first broke the story in 2007, said that there is a big campaign to show the children are lying.
“In the little town Cap-Haitian of a poor country, Project Pierre Toussaint was a source of great opportunities,” Sibert told The Mirror in an e-mail. “Perlitz maintained a network of people who were willing and able to carry out his order no matter what the price. They included: local authorities, policemen, hotel, resorts, and restaurant beach owners.
The kids’ well-being was the least of their concern. People with Catholic Church connection did have a bearing on the case in the negative way.”
Here is an update on the case.
Perlitz founded a school, Project Pierre Toussaint, in 1997 with a grant from the Order of Malta, a Catholic organization. Then two years later in 1999, the Haiti Fund, an organization led by former Fairfield Campus Ministry Director Fr. Paul Carrier, along with many Fairfield employees and wealthy Catholics from Fairfield County, was formed to oversee fund-raising and operations.
Once the allegations became public in 2007, an investigation by the Haiti Fund’s Board of Directors legal counsel was launched. No wrongdoing was initially uncovered, but, at the end of April 2008, the Board uncovered new information. An independent investigative firm was hired, and following its report, the Board removed Perlitz as director.
Michael McCooey, the newly appointed director, met with the Haitian National Police, which had been conducting an investigation as well. The HNP confirmed the independent investigation, according to a letter by McCooey.
Perlitz was indicted by a Bridgeport grand jury in Sept. 2009 and on April 21, 2010, a second superseding indictment returned more counts and specifics on the alleged abuse. He now faces a total of 24 counts relating to travel to engage in illicit sex with 18 boys enrolled in his program.
Fr. Paul Carrier’s Role
The new indictment highlights the role of Carrier, referred to only as a “religious leader” who befriended Perlitz during his time at Fairfield and frequently met and talked with Perlitz in Haiti and elsewhere. Perlitz’s travel to Haiti was frequently paid for on Carrier’s credit card and Perlitz also lived with Carrier for short periods of time in Connecticut. The indictment also alleges that $1,898,050 was transferred from 2002-2008 to an account in Haiti that Perlitz controlled from the Haiti Fund, of which Carrier was the chairman.
A recent independent investigation into Fairfield University’s role highlighted the fact that a lack of financial controls in Campus Ministry allowed for $120,500 to be paid to Carrier
with no documentation for how the money was spent.
The indictment also says that Perlitz used his relationship with Carrier and influential Board members to conceal his sex abuse by barring investigators hired by the Board entrance to his room and by flying to Haiti to remove two computers and other items from a safe in Perlitz’s room.
Carrier and other Board members have not been indicted on any charges.
Fairfield University’s Role
The same independent investigation that discovered the missing $120,500 from Campus Ministry during Carrier’s time at the helm also looked into the extent and nature of Fairfield’s relationship with PPT and the Haiti Fund.
Day Pitney, a law firm based in Stamford, Conn. with longstanding ties to the Catholic Church, was retained in Sept. 2009 to investigate these potential problems.
According to the Day Pitney report, the independent investigation into Fairfield’s involvement in Project Pierre Toussaint determined that the University had no knowledge of the allegations of sexual abuse by Perlitz until May 2, 2008. At that time, a representative of the Haiti Fund called University President Fr. Jeffrey von Arx to inform him of the allegations.
The report also states that while the University was widely perceived as being affiliated with Perlitz, the Haiti Fund and PPT, there was no legal or fiduciary relationship with them.
But eight of the 16 members of the board of directors had direct Fairfield ties, including faculty, staff, alumni and a Jesuit. The University does not have formal ties to the Haiti Fund, which conveniently allows it to distance itself from the scandal. The University has previously raised money at mass for the charity and awarded Perlitz with an honorary degree.
At the time of his arrest Vice President of Marketing and Communications Rama Sudhakar told The Connecticut Post, “We had no prior knowledge of it. There is no comment to be made. All we can do is give you some facts.”
When asked by The Mirror to clarify her remarks, Sudhakar said, “Prior to the arrest of Mr. Perlitz, the University was not aware of a criminal investigation. Fairfield officials learned about a year ago that the Project’s Board of Directors had removed Mr. Perlitz as the Project’s Director following their investigation.”
The independent investigation also reported that approximately $604,000 in payments for the benefit of PPT was made through the University from 1997 to 2008. This money consisted of primarily donations from collections held during mass at the Egan Chapel as well as donations made through the University’s Office of Development.
And during Carrier’s time at Fairfield, payments of $97,500 were made to Carrier from Campus Ministry restricted accounts. In addition to this money, an additional $23,000 was paid to Carrier from the Campus Ministry operating account, bringing the total money to $120,500.
A lack of financial records prevented Day Pitney from determining the purpose of this money although Stanley A. Twardy, Jr., a former Connecticut U.S. attorney and partner in Day Pitney, said that there was “no evidence of diversions of funds.”
University Board Chairman Paul J. Huston said that because of the increase in money over the years, Campus Ministry’s system could not keep up with the new demand in addition to too much delegation. He also said that Carrier was “wearing two hats” as both Campus Ministry director and chairman of the Haiti Fund, so it made accounting even more difficult.
The decision to remove Carrier in April 2006 as Campus Ministry director by Fr. Thomas Regan, at the time the Jesuit Provincial and former Fairfield teacher, was based in no way on any allegations in connection with PPT according to the report and Regan.
Day Pitney also provides counsel for the Diocese of Bridgeport, which is also represented by Philip Lacovara, who works for a different firm. Lacovara was a member of the Haiti Fund board who signed a letter supporting Perlitz.
Sudhakar said there was no conflict of interest “as Fairfield University is a separate entity from the diocese of Bridgeport. And Mr. Lacovara is not affiliated with Fairfield University.”
Fairfield has not supported Perlitz or the accusations against him. The school seems to be treading a middle ground, waiting for the judicial outcome no matter the evidence on either side.
Fairfield has previously held Perlitz up to be a shinning example of a true “Man for Others,” the mantra to which all Fairfield students should strive to achieve. But if the University supports him, it looks as though it supports child abuse. If it supports the accusations, it disowns one of their proudest graduates, and in the process, also upsets many wealthy Fairfield County Catholics who still support Perlitz.
So for now, the University plays the waiting game.
A motion by the government trying to prevent the release of Perlitz pending his trial attached “Exhibit A,” which stated that after a very preliminary investigation by an Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agent, Perlitz’s computer was found to contain “numerous (over 100+) image files depicting nude black males… Many of these files depicted younger-looking black males engaged in graphic homosexual activity (e.g. oral and anal sex.)” along with links to Web sites such as www.islandboys.com, www.spankteenboys.com, forum.afriboyz.com and www.nudeafricanboys.com.
“We haven’t seen any information about what they are alleging with the computer,” said William F. Dow, Perlitz’s lead lawyer and one of the top defense attorneys in the state, at the time. “There is nothing illegal about any of the conduct the government described.”
He added that these type of allegations are intended to serve as “lightening rods” to raise support for the prosecutor’s case in the public eye.
But in the end the allegations may have accomplished that goal, at least according to those who attended to speak against Perlitz’s potential release. The new information may have helped turn the tide against releasing Perlitz, according to Henri Alexander, a lawyer and member of the Haitian Lawyers Leadership Network (HLLN). He said that he thought that some people who may have been willing to support Perlitz now do not want their names associated with the case.
Alexander, along with Ezili Danto, the founder of the HLLN, attended the hearing along with 10 Haitians to give the people of Haiti a voice after the previous hearing which was well-attended by Perlitz supports, a fact pointed out several times by Dow during that portion of the hearing.
“We’re not too, too informed about the case,” said Odelin Francois, the president of Global Network for Progress, which strives to provide impoverished children an education. “But from what we’ve heard, we feel he is preying on poor black kids. He gives them bread and education so he can use them. Black kids are not for sale and not for abuse. We can provide for ourselves, we don’t need these people.”
Perlitz’s lawyers eventually withdrew their arguments to have Perlitz released. It was expected that a $4 million to $5 million bond along with multiple third party custodians would have been sufficient.
Dow said at the time that the defense had not yet met the conditions that Margolis had set forth for his release, but that ultimately, he would ask for Perlitz to be released once he secures the finances.
“It’s an extraordinary bond requirement,” said Dow after the hearing. “It involves a bunch of moving parts, like playing three-level chess.”
PPT Closes – The Children v. Perlitz
The removal of Perlitz caused a schism in the Board. A large group of Board members and donors supporting Perlitz split, leaving the organization with few fund-raising capabilities and dwindling supplies. The school was forced to close; something that the children feared would happen if they spoke out. The government has alleged that Perlitz would often withhold benefits to children who refused to sleep with him and lavish those who did with gifts, such as cash, clothing and electronics. He took the children to restaurants where he bought them meals and alcohol before encouraging them to spend the night in his bedroom. Those who didn’t: he threatened to kick back out onto the streets.
“The school closing is a punishment,” said Sibert. “Their moral is very low. They finally realize that Doug was right when he claimed that: ‘If you disclose what is happening the project will be closed and you will return to the street where you belong. Your situation will be worst. You’d better keep your mouth shut.’ Today, victims are back into the streets, they don’t have food, clothes; they can’t go to school anymore, nor bathe. They survive by begging for food in the public market, restaurants or hotels.”
In a recent hearing on April 1, Dow said that in a case like this one, with no physical evidence, it becomes a “credibility contest” between Perlitz and the Haitian children.
According to Sibert, this has had an enormous psychological effect on the children. They were lured in by a charismatic leader offering food and shelter and then told it was contingent on their cooperation.
“There is no support for them,” said Sibert. “As far as I can determine, they need psychological support. One of them told me the fact that he has to go through the same tedious process of testifying repeatedly is very traumatic. I am afraid that they may try to hide to protect themselves and not to have to face this very emotional situation. They hope and pray that justice will prevail. They hope that the board of Project Pierre Toussaint will take their case into consideration and will provide basic assistance in the near future.”
The government has taped statements from many of the children and is also planning on flying some of the accusers into Connecticut to testify in Oct. when the trial is currently scheduled to begin.
A large contingent of the Haiti Fund continues to support Perlitz though. A letter dated Sept. 8, 2008, which was sent to the PPT community, defended Perlitz and raised questions about the investigation. Carrier signed the letter, along with Fairfield employees at the time Debbie Picarazzi, Cathy Lozier, Sue MacAvoy and 2006 honorary degree recipient Hope Carter. All five also resigned from the executive committee, leaving only two members. Influential attorneys Lacovara and Thomas Tisdale also signed the letter.
The letter alleges, “Business leaders and friends of the Project in Cap Haitien believe that the culture of poverty and financial incentives are at the root of pressuring the kids to speak against Doug.”
More troubling, the letter states that in June of 2008, one of the original children in the project, Wilnaud, was kidnapped in connection to the investigation at PPT. He was one of 19 boys to write a letter saying, “No, no, no, no, (please) this conspiracy is not going to work, we want Doug to return so he can continue his work because everything they are saying is lies.”
He was severally beaten, his jaw fractured, bound with chicken wire and left for dead in an active latrine. His friends believed that he was specifically targeted to intimidate others, according to the letter.
However, this letter is mentioned in the second superseding indictment as one of the methods Perlitz used to attempt to conceal his behavior, by using his relationship with Carrier and other influential Board members.
Perlitz will not stand trial until Oct. 2010. His lawyers must still conduct their own investigation in Haiti while reviewing all the documents and video testimony the government has provided. The government also recently sent its investigators back to Haiti.
Support for his innocence or guilt has been equally as vociferous on both sides. To some, he is a hero; the same culture of poverty that he strove to fix engulfed him and led to false accusations. To others, he is a criminal of the worst kind; he fed off the needs of children, luring them off the streets with food, shelter and clothing; making the children need his help before abusing them; then threatening to throw them back out onto the streets if they talked.
University President Fr. Jeffrey von Arx has stressed that Fairfield has not distanced itself from PPT in public statements.
“We continue to be actively involved in Haiti,” said von Arx. “We are in discussions with the current board of the Haiti Fund to explore how we might partner to reopen. We have continued to express our willingness to help the board and the discussions are ongoing.”
The current board chairman, Michael McCooey, has not responded to multiple messages on his phone seeking comment after originally agreeing to an interview. Sibert said that he has heard that the project will be reopening, but that the board members are working behind closed doors. This sentiment is also echoed by Kendrick, who has repeatedly e-mailed Fairfield administrators and taken out ads in The Mirror calling for the school’s reopening or some type of support for the children.
“The Haiti Fund, Inc. board (McCooey) is refusing to tell survivor advocates what progress is being made,” said Kendrick in an e-mail. “They have gone dead silent. We are assuming that Fairfield University provided them with some funds (how much?). Please note that the Haiti Fund board includes many of the same people under whose watch the abuse occurred, so child protection advocates want to know what will be done to insure the safety of the boys in the future and, as importantly, what is being done for them now re: medical and counseling. It is outrageous that nothing has been done to help the victims.”
Von Arx has said that there were plans to make Haiti an integral part of the curriculum next year and highlighted the other charities and work Fairfield does in the community.
“We want to work as closely as we can with the Haiti Fund and we remain ready to assist the Haiti Fund as they ask us to. We are not walking away from PPT,” said von Arx.
But, PPT remains closed. The children remain on the streets, begging. The outcome of Perlitz’s trial won’t change that fact.
“The community as a whole is eagerly waiting to fill a gap left by Perlitz,” said Sibert. “It will take some time and continuous effort to put the experience behind, heal the wounds and move forward. It all depends on the human good will and honesty of the new participants and the determination of the leaders involved (Local or foreigner).”