Jury in Paul Kendrick Defamation Case Awards $14.5 Million to Orphanage Founder, Charity

By Scott Dolan
Portland Press Herald
July 23, 2015

Paul Kendrick, left, and Michael Geilenfeld

A jury delivered a $14.5 million verdict against Paul Kendrick of Freeport after deliberating nearly five hours Thursday in a federal defamation case brought against him by the American founder of an orphanage for boys in Haiti.

Michael Geilenfeld and Hearts with Haiti, the North Carolina charity that raises donations to fund his orphanage, had accused Kendrick of widely broadcasting false claims in an email campaign starting in January 2011 that Geilenfeld sexually abused some orphans in his care.

The jury found Kendrick was reckless and negligent in making the accusations. It awarded actual damages of $7.5 million to Hearts with Haiti, and $7 million to Geilenfeld.

Neither Kendrick nor any of his supporters were in the courtroom to hear the unanimous verdict, but Kendrick returned a call later in the evening, saying he was “overburdened with sadness” for the seven former orphans who testified against Geilenfeld at the trial.

“It took a great amount of courage for these guys to testify and put themselves at risk back on the streets of Port-au-Prince,” Kendrick said. “The jurors, I don’t even know what to say to them because we’re too busy trying to assuage the pain of the men they didn’t believe.”

Kendrick’s attorney, David Walker, who was hired by Kendrick’s insurance company, declined to say how much of the verdict would be covered by Kendrick’s homeowner’s insurance.

Geilenfeld, members of Hearts with Haiti and his other supporters initially responded to the verdict in the courtroom with silence, as ordered by Judge John A. Woodcock Jr.

But outside the courthouse afterward, his group let out a loud cheer, though they declined to comment to members of the media.

“This has been a very long, unusually long, unusually complicated and emotional trial,” Woodcock said, thanking the jury for its service in the case.

Geilenfeld and Hearts with Haiti could have asked the jury to consider awarding additional punitive damages against Kendrick in addition to what was legally considered actual damages, but they declined to do so after a brief recess with the jury out of the room.

The 10 members of the jury had listened to nearly three weeks of testimony in the trial that started on July 7, from witnesses including Kendrick, Geilenfeld and the seven former residents of St. Joseph’s Home for Boys in Port-au-Prince who said Geilenfeld sexually abused them.

“The question is, were all of these young men lying when they came forward time and time again to say they were abused by Mr. Geilenfeld?” Walker said in his closing arguments Thursday morning. “They look different from us. They have different backgrounds. But it doesn’t mean they don’t know what it’s like to be touched and molested while they were teenagers by a grown man.”

Walker listed a litany of other occasions dating to 1987 when boys from the orphanage had made sexual abuse allegations against Geilenfeld.

Walker said Hearts with Haiti had known of sexual abuse allegations against Geilenfeld long before Kendrick began his email campaign, and the organization failed to act.

But Geilenfeld’s attorney, Peter DeTroy, said in his closing arguments that every one of those past allegations had been investigated and discredited.

A federal agent from the Department of Homeland Security went to Haiti in 2012 to investigate Kendrick’s claims. She interviewed the same men who testified in Kendrick’s defamation trial and closed the case in January 2013 without bringing charges against Geilenfeld.

DeTroy called Kendrick a “cyber bully” and a “cyber vigilante” who sent out a constant barrage of emails to people connected to Geilenfeld, more than 500 recipients per email, including the board members of Hearts with Haiti, their families and employers, and media outlets.

“The keyboard is a lot mightier than the pen and the sword,” DeTroy said of Kendrick’s emails. “They are instantaneous, and they can eviscerate a person’s reputation and life’s work.”

DeTroy cited Kendrick’s first email on Jan. 31, 2011, addressed to Geilenfeld, in which Kendrick wrote: “We know you are raping Haitian children.”

But DeTroy then showed jurors an email that Kendrick sent 24 hours later to an associate in Haiti that “there is not enough evidence” against Geilenfeld to make a case.

Geilenfeld, 63, has repeatedly denied abusing children in his care at St. Joseph’s Home for Boys in Port-au-Prince in Haiti and filed suit against Kendrick in 2013, claiming Kendrick’s email campaign had so damaged his reputation that an American fundraising group for the orphanage had lost about $2 million in donations.

Geilenfeld also accused Kendrick of campaigning to have Geilenfeld arrested by Haitian authorities on child sex abuse charges last September. Geilenfeld remained in prison in Port-au-Prince for 237 days before a Haitian judge dismissed the case. Geilenfeld was arrested in Haiti just one month before his case against Kendrick in Portland had been scheduled for trial. The trial here was delayed until his release in April, after which he was able to return to the United States, though Haitian officials had seized his passport. Geilenfeld’s accusers in Haiti have since filed an appeal, reviving the case against him there regardless of the outcome of the defamation trial against Kendrick.

Geilenfeld still owns the orphanage, but Haitian authorities will not allow minors to stay there pending the resolution of the legal cases.

Geilenfeld testified last week that he is gay and that Haiti is a “very homophobic” country. His sexual orientation has led to his being accused of child sex abuse several times in the past, though those allegations were quickly dispelled, he told jurors.

“There was a perception in Haiti that a homosexual was a freak of nature and also equated to a child molester,” Geilenfeld said.

Kendrick, 65, has passionately defended his claim and testified during the trial that Geilenfeld is a “serial child molester.”

DeTroy said after the court adjourned that there is nothing legally to stop Kendrick from continuing his defamatory campaign against Geilenfeld and Hearts with Haiti. But he said his clients could return to court and seek further damages against Kendrick if he continues.

“Obviously, we’re just very, very grateful,” DeTroy said of the jury’s verdict.








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