Maine Man Accused in Defamation Case Takes the Stand

By Patty Wight
Maine Public Radio
July 10, 2015

[with audio]

Paul Kendrick, who is accused of defamation, took the stand today.

PORTLAND, Maine - A defamation trial against a Freeport man who accused the founder of an orphanage in Haiti of sexually abusing children in his care is underway this week. The defendant, Paul Kendrick, took the stand in federal District Court in Portland Thursday.

Patty Wight was there and joins Maine Things Considered host Nora Flaherty with the latest details.

Nora Flaherty: Patty, first why don't you tell us more on what this case is all about.

Patty Wight: This suit was brought by Michael Geilenfeld, who is the founder of an organization that provides a number of services to poor Haitian children, including an orphanage for boys. Another plaintiff is a nonprofit organization called Hearts with Haiti, which does fundraising for Geilenfeld's organization.

And basically, these plaintiffs say that starting in 2011, a man named Paul Kendrick, of Freeport, launched a campaign to defame, bully, and harass Geilenfeld, and raising allegations of sexual abuse of boys at the orphanage. The plaintiffs say Kendrick sent hundreds of emails to third parties intended to destroy Geilenfeld and Hearts with Haiti. And as a result, these organizations have lost more than $2 million in donations.

Nora Flaherty: So where did these allegations of sexual abuse come from?

Patty Wight: Kendrick, who is a vocal activist against sexual abuse by catholic priests, says allegations came from a Haitian journalist who he had worked with on another sexual abuse case in Haiti that ultimately sent that perpetrator to jail. This journalist apparently told Kendrick that there was alleged abuse going on at the orphanage founded by Geilenfeld called St. Joseph's Home for Boys.

And after speaking at length with the journalist and an alleged victim, Kendrick started sending emails telling individuals and organizations associated with Geilenfeld and Hearts with Haiti about the suspected abuse. In some of the emails presented in court, Kendrick accused Geilenfeld of raping children and asked those affiliated with his orphanage why they would support a multi-accused child abuser.

Nora Flaherty: And today was the first day with Paul Kendrick on the stand - tell us what that was like.

Patty Wight: Well, the prosecution is trying to cast doubt on the credibility of the sexual abuse allegations. So Geilenfeld's lawyer, Peter DeTroy, showed emails where Kendrick himself questioned whether he, and others he was working with, had a complete understanding of the situation. In one email, Kendrick asked whether these alleged victims were really sexually abused, and by whom?

The prosecution also pointed out that the Department of Homeland Security investigated these allegations, but closed the case because none of the witnesses they interviewed admitted to being sexually abused by Geilenfeld. When Kendrick got the news the case was closed he wrote in an email that "It is of course possible they were not sexually abused by Michael Geilenfeld."

Nora Flaherty: So how did Kendrick respond?

Patty Wight: Kendrick accused the prosecution of taking his words out of context and said the questions he raised about the alleged abuse was an effort to drum up more evidence to draw more attention to the situation. He tended to evade questions, and the judge ultimately instructed Kendrick to answer the prosecution's questions and reminded him he would be able to talk about what he wanted to when his lawyers question him. But Kendrick's most consistent explanation for his actions is he was trying to protect poor and vulnerable children in an orphange in Haiti.

Nora Flaherty: And this case is a defamation case - Geilenfeld's trying to clear his name. But the case is potentially about more than that.

Patty Wight: Right. The plaintiffs are trying to prove significant financial and personal injury. Geilenfeld was actually held in a Haitian prison for the alleged abuse but a judge there ultimately acquitted him. That's not totally a done deal because Haiti's justice minister says the verdict was improperly reached and there will be additional proceedings.

But Kendrick and his lawyer's take on this case is that it will finally vindicate the alleged victims' accounts of sexual abuse. Seven of them are expected to testify. And we'll hear their stories sometime over the course of the next couple of weeks.








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