Another 17 Haitian Orphans Sue Fairfield University over Sex Abuse

By Edmund H. Mahony
Hartford Courant
January 5, 2012,0,68867.story

Twenty-one Haitian men are suing Fairfield University and affiliated religious and charitable organizations for sexual abuse they suffered as children in a residential school in Haiti founded and operated by a university alumnus who later was prosecuted as a pedophile.

The suits, 17 of which were filed in federal court in Connecticut this week, grow out of the abuse of destitute children living at Project Pierre Toussaint, a charity founded in Cap Haitien by Fairfield University graduate Douglas Perlitz.

The lawsuits all assert that the university; the Society of Jesus of New England, which operates the university; the charity's board, and individuals associated with both the school and the charity were able to influence Perlitz but failed to stop abuse that was known to residential staff in Haiti.

Perlitz was sentenced two years ago to more than 19 years in prison for abusing as many as 18 of the boys he admitted to his residential charity. Prosecutors said he threatened to return boys to the streets of the hemisphere's poorest nation if they refused his demands. The abuse took place over about a decade beginning in the late 1990s.

The lawsuits contend that Perlitz's charitable operation in Haiti drew significant support, financial and otherwise, from Fairfield University and the larger religious community associated with the Jesuit school. The financial support in particular gave donors access to and control over Perlitz's operation, according to Boston lawyer Mitchell Garabedian, a lawyer for the victims.

During the period the abuse took place, the suits assert, the university contributed $57,000 to the charity and the Jesuits contributed $600,000. At the same time, the suits say the Jesuits assigned priests in training to work at Project Pierre Toussaint and the university arranged for volunteers to work there.

The frequent travel to and from Haiti should have alerted church and school officials to the abuse, the suit contends. It was widely known on the campus of the residential school in Haiti, the suit contends, that Perlitz was spending nights with boys. In some cases, boys complained to the charity's staff and their cries of pain could be heard at night from Perlitz's bedroom, according to the suits.

The lawsuits, filed in behalf of 21 now-adult Haitian men by lawyers from New Haven, Boston and New York, seek tens of millions of dollars in damages.

Fairfield University disputes the allegations. The school said it supported Project Pierre Toussaint's stated mission to assist impoverished children. But Fairfield was not affiliated with and did not have supervisory authority over the charity, Stanley Twardy, the university's lawyer, said Thursday.

The charity's Connecticut-based board, the Haiti Fund, was led by Paul E. Carrier, a priest who was once the Fairfield University chaplain. But Twardy said the charity's board operated independent of the school. He said the donated money was raised by passing collection baskets at campus church services.

Lawyers for the other organizations and individuals named in the suits did not respond to requests for information.

At the time he was sentenced, Perlitz blamed his abuse of children on what he called a "dark and abusive" relationship he had with a priest while a student at Fairfield University. Although Perlitz did not publicly identify the priest, the lawsuits filed this week claim that Perlitz told some of his victims that "Carrier was the one who introduced Perlitz to homosexual activities when Perlitz was a student."

The suits also contend that, as a frequent visitor to Project Pierre Toussaint, Carrier knew that boys were sleeping in Perlitz's bedroom and that Perlitz played a pornographic video for at least one boy.

The charity's board, while Carrier was chairman, twice conducted sham inquiries intended to cover up evidence of abuse, the suits contend.

Another board member, Hope Carter, flew to Haiti in 2008 at the request of Perlitz and removed a personal computer from his residence, the suits contend. The FBI later found the computer at a home in Colorado, where Perlitz had moved. Agents determined that Perlitz used the computer to access pornographic material concerning boys.

The FBI was aware of the removal of the computer more than two years ago and did not charge Carter.



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