8:41 p.m. EDT, July 14, 2010
But late in the day, acting on a hastily filed motion by federal prosecutors, U.S. District Judge Janet Bond Arterton agreed to postpone until July 23 her order dismissing the indictment against Douglas Perlitz, formerly of Fairfield and founder and director of Project Pierre Toussaint in Haiti's north coast city of Cap-Haitien.
U.S. Attorney David B. Fein, in his motion to stay the dismissal, said the government needed time to consider its options.
"A stay is necessary to prevent defendant — a person who has been previously detained by a magistrate judge in this District for the reason that he is a danger to the community — from being released from custody," Fein wrote in the government motion.
Perlitz has been detained without bail since his arrest in September.
In ordering the dismissal, Arterton said the U.S. attorney's office is prosecuting Perlitz in the wrong jurisdiction — Connecticut — for alleged offenses that occurred elsewhere.
In her written decision, Arterton said she is not prohibiting federal prosecutors from re-indicting Perlitz in another jurisdiction, or venue.
"This dismissal for improper venue does not prohibit the Government from seeking an indictment against Perlitz in judicial district(s) in which venue would be proper," Arterton said in a written ruling and order dated Wednesday.
The Perlitz case attracted the attention of advocacy groups opposing the abuse of children by priests after disclosures that fundraising for his charity was closely associated with a faculty clergy member of Fairfield University.
"This is a devastating ruling that we desperately hope will be overturned by a higher court," said David Clohessy, executive director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. "Perlitz clearly exploited and assaulted extremely vulnerable and poor Haitian children. He's a dangerous predator who belongs behind bars and will likely molest again if given the chance."
Perlitz, a 39-year-old graduate of Fairfield University, was indicted in January and charged with nine counts of traveling outside the United States with the intent to engage in sexual conduct with persons under the age of 18, and 10 counts of engaging in sexual conduct in foreign places with persons under the age of 18. He faces up to 30 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 on each count, if convicted.
The indictment said that he "befriended and recruited male street children to attend" the boarding school he ran for his charity. To "entice and persuade" the children to comply with his sexual demands, Perlitz promised them food, shelter, money raised from his donors, and items such as cellphones, shoes and clothing, the indictment said.
Federal investigators have said Perlitz threatened to turn the young boys, some of them orphans, out of the school and back onto Haiti's streets if they didn't comply with his demands.
Perlitz has argued in court, and Arterton agreed Wednesday, that prosecution in Connecticut would violate Perlitz's constitutional right to be tried in a place where his crimes were allegedly committed. His lawyer, William F. Dow III, argued that no conduct by Perlitz essential to any element of the crimes with which he is charged took place in Connecticut.
Federal prosecutors had argued, unsuccessfully, that because Perlitz lived in Connecticut, drove from Connecticut to a New York airport, bought airline tickets using money raised in Connecticut, and booked his travel from Connecticut, he committed acts in Connecticut that were essential to the crimes.
Arterton concluded the Perlitz's activity in Connecticut "is only non–criminal conduct in preparation for, and prior to, the criminal conduct charged."
"The Government's prosecution of Perlitz in this State would therefore violate the Constitution's requirement that a criminal prosecution occur 'in the state where the said crimes shall have been committed,' " Arterton wrote.
The Justice Department raised the profile on the case in an effort to demonstrate an aggressive stance against "sex tourists" who travel abroad to molest vulnerable children.
Perlitz's charity was located in Haiti's north coast city of Cap-Haitien, the second most populous city in the hemisphere's poorest country.
He was accused of offering boys as young as 6 shelter, food, clothing, shoes, water to bathe in, sporting activities, and basic education.
The project was financed in the past decade through the Haiti Fund Inc., a registered Connecticut charity. Fund directors were appointed by the Rev. Paul Carrier, the former director of campus ministry at Fairfield University. Carrier was a close friend of Perlitz's and frequently visited him in Haiti.
Donors contributed more than $2 million to Project Pierre Toussaint between 1997 and 2008. When allegations of sexual abuse surfaced in 2008, donations — many from Connecticut and the Fairfield University community — dried up. The charity closed in the summer of 2008, leaving the children homeless again.
Perlitz is a 1992 graduate of Fairfield University. In 2002, he delivered the school's commencement address and received an honorary degree. He moved from Connecticut to suburban Denver a year ago. The indictment against him said he spent most of the time since 1991 in Haiti.