|Perlitz Sentenced to Nearly 20 Years for Sex Abuse in Haiti
By Michael P. Mayko
December 21, 2010
NEW HAVEN -- It's a story filled with chapters on hope, dark desires, courage and persistence.
On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Janet Bond Arterton wrote another one -- on justice -- sentencing Douglas Perlitz, the humanitarian turned sex predator, to 19 years and seven months in federal prison for his systematic and prolonged abuse of at least 16 homeless boys in a program he created to shelter, feed and educate them in Haiti.
"Our country places a high value on defending citizens' individual dignity and protecting every child," Arterton told Perlitz, 40, Fairfield University's 2002 commencement speaker. "This was a horrific crime ... In a country that's very hard to live in; he took away the childhood they were never able to have... ."
But Arterton didn't stop there. She looked directly at Perlitz and told him: "Survivors of sexual abuse have unique, long-lasting permanent injuries -- for these boys that's on top of being poor, hungry and homeless in Haiti. Now they have fingers pointed at them in derision."
Arterton set a March 7 hearing on the restitution that Perlitz must provide to help his victims.
She feared he might again "injure and abuse" children so she placed him on 10 years of U.S. Probation Department supervision following his release from prison and banned him from associating with children under 18. She ordered him to enter a sexual abuse counseling program during his confinement, which she recommended take place in the U.S. Bureau of Prisons' medical facility in Devens, Mass.
"This is a vindication of those victimized by this atrocity as well as those who are not yet known," said Joseph M. Champagne, the mayor of South Toms River, N.J., and a member of the Haitian Lawyers Leadership Network, several of whom attended the sentencing. "Now everyone knows that if you rape and sodomize someone in some other country you will be brought to the bar of justice."
Before pronouncing Perlitz's sentence, Arterton listened for nearly seven hours to the story of Project Pierre Toussaint.
It was a program of hope for Haitian street boys. It started in a parking lot in Cap-Haitien, the country's second-largest city, whose streets are filled with at least 10,000 abandoned children begging daily for food, clothing and medicine and money and sleeping in courtyards, on roofs, in woods. It grew into an intake center, an enclosed residential school on 10 acres of land and group homes for promising high school students. It was funded with millions of dollars raised by wealthy Fairfield and Westchester county Catholics.
The program began crumbling in 2007 when students went public with accounts of being abused by Perlitz. When funding dried up, the program shut down during the summer of 2009.
On Tuesday, six former students, all victims of Perlitz's abuse wrote the chapter on courage by describing their years of sexual abuse to the judge. The boys, speaking in their native Creole, which was translated to the judge, related how they would be invited to Perlitz's home, sometimes on their birthday or just before a holiday, sometimes after school on Friday afternoons and sometime when they became disruptive in school.
There the nightmarish acts would occur. Some would awaken to his abusing him, others would be asked to perform sex with him, and some would consent to demands for fondling and for being fondled. To resist could mean expulsion from the program, they said.
Just how many were abused is unknown. The prosecution said they could document 16 but believe there were more.
One boy told how he and others would hear Perlitz's footsteps in their dormitory room and feign sleeping or look for a hiding place "so he wouldn't sleep with us."
"He never made love to us, he made hate," he said.
That boy's descriptive story of being sexually abused over five years struck an emotional chord with Cyrus Sibert, the Haitian journalist, the first to report on the scandal in 2007.
Emotion overcame Sibert, who spent the last three years counseling and helping the victims. He briefly left the courtroom in the company of Paul Kendrick, an advocate for sexual abuse victims and the Rev. Bob Hoatson, a Catholic priest who operates the Road to Recovery Inc., a New Jersey program that offers help to victims of clergy sexual abuse.
There's the chapter on persistence written by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Krishna Patel, Stephen Reynolds and Richard Schechter. When the original indictment was dismissed in Connecticut after Arterton decided there was no evidence a crime was committed here, prosecutors formulated a plan to charge Perlitz in New York, California, Colorado and Florida -- every state where Perlitz had flown to Haiti with the intention of engaging in sex with one of students shortly thereafter.
They filed the first in Brooklyn federal court, which required Perlitz to be moved to the federal detention center there, which has a number of Haitians in its population. Perlitz never went there. Instead he and his lawyers, David Grudberg and William F. Dow III quickly negotiated a guilty plea to one charge of traveling from New York to Haiti to have sex with an underage boy.
Patel rebutted one letter from a Perlitz supporter claiming his program took children "lower than dirt and the scourges of society and lifted them up."
"These are not children below dirt," she said. "These are children who showed extraordinary courage ... He preyed on clients he was supposed to protect and nurture ... All Perlitz did was harm that country and harm their children."
Perlitz, 40, dressed in a dark blue sweater covering a white shirt and tie over gray pants, spent nearly 20 minutes apologizing. He admitted living a double life until his guilty plea in August.
Then he turned to the rows of the six boys and spoke to them in Creole asking them and "all of Haiti to forgive me."
"At the time I had contact with you I wasn't thinking about you or your feeling about how my actions would affect you. No, I was too stingy."
He said he is tormented every day, thinking of how things would be different if he left Haiti. He said he feared that "Project Pierre Toussaint would fall apart ... Now I am going to prison because of what I did ... I can say I deserve this."
After the sentencing hope rose again.
Al Lackey, president of Kids Alive International, an Indiana charity which operates in Cap-Haitien said his organization is close to finalizing a deal with Fairfield University and the Order of Malta, a Roman Catholic charity to provide help for all of the 82 residential students.
"We've got commitments to get these six victims and 34 others into two trade schools next month," said Lackey, who attended the hearing. "Some will need counseling, others just friends and mentors. What I can assure you is we will be part of these kids for the rest of their lives."
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