Douglas Perlitz: Hero or sex predator?
Same story also What happened at Project Pierre Toussaint?
CAP-HAÏTIEN, Haiti — The lesson still is chalked on the blackboard in the deserted classroom. “Odette bought 19 pineapples,” the French scrawl reads. Outside, knee-high prairie grass grows over the walkways. Rodents and insects scurry about the 10-acre compound, their only companions the roaming security guards with pump-action shotguns who are paid to discourage human intruders.
The Village is deserted now. But not long ago, a large iron gate would open here every morning, allowing 100 or so orphaned and abandoned boys to enter this refuge, a place to bathe and eat and learn, an escape from a life of beatings and hunger. The Village was one of three compounds that made up Project Pierre Toussaint, a program designed to give a future to boys who had none.
These days, the boys are back in the streets of this city of 180,000, Haiti’s second-largest, living by their wits, begging for handouts, dodging thugs, sleeping in dirty alleyways and on flat roofs.
Douglas Perlitz is not here either. The Fairfield University graduate who founded this internationally recognized school for such boys sits in a prison cell awaiting trial in New Haven, accused of sexually abusing 18 of the very children he once was honored for helping. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
What happened at Project Pierre Toussaint?
A confidential Haitian police investigative report portrays, in shocking detail, how Perlitz may have preyed on even more students — up to 29, investigators believe. Perlitz was warned not to continue taking children to his house for overnight stays, but former school employees told Hearst Connecticut Newspaper that a culture of silence grew out of the fear of wrecking the economically flourishing charity. A former friend of Perlitz’s who shared a Cap-Haïtien apartment with him said that as far back as 1998, Perlitz was bringing young boys into his bedroom.
Project Pierre Toussaint probably would not have existed without the Rev. Paul Carrier, a charismatic Jesuit priest, close mentor to Perlitz and the longtime director of Fairfield University’s Campus Ministry program. He has not been charged with any wrongdoing, but his role in setting up the charity that raised millions of dollars for Perlitz’s programs — and where that money went — has aroused the interest of federal investigators.
And Perlitz might not be behind bars save for the work of Cyrus Sibert, a Haitian journalist who says he ignored threats and refused bribes to expose allegations that the boys of The Village were being abused.
In a land devastated by earthquakes and hurricanes, bloodied by despots and mercenaries, it might seem that what happened at Project Pierre Toussaint would be a footnote, at most, in Haiti’s long history of despair.
Perhaps that is so. But this is also a riveting story of betrayal, all the more compelling because not everyone here agrees on who has done the betraying.
Nine boys — several of whom are identified in Haitian police documents as victims of Perlitz — said in interviews that they were never abused and defended him as a victim of a plot to seize control of the school.
Armed with evidence showing child pornography on Perlitz’s computer, federal investigators dismiss those claims. They maintain those boys either are driven by a misplaced loyalty to Perlitz, or that Perlitz and his supporters may have bribed them to lie. Prosecutors, citing Western Union records, said in court documents they believe Perlitz wired money “to buy the silence” of former students.
The Haiti Fund, the charity that raised millions for Perlitz’s project, is in disarray. Past and current board members — prominent residents of Fairfield and Westchester counties — are locked in a bitter dispute. Some ex-board members say Perlitz has been railroaded. At Fairfield University, where the Campus Ministry’s efforts in Haiti have long been a source of immense pride, an internal investigation is under way to determine the school’s financial relationship with Perlitz.
It was a few moments before Fairfield University’s fall 2006 convocation, and two men chatted outside the school’s Bellarmine Hall. They shared a deep connection with the tiny country of Haiti.
One of them, Paul Farmer, was the featured speaker. A recipient of a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant,” the slender Harvard physician had founded Partners in Health and built a health clinic in Cange, Haiti. The other, Douglas Perlitz, an honored university graduate, had met Farmer through his own ground-breaking work establishing programs for street boys in northern Haiti.
Later that day, Farmer told a rapt audience how Perlitz had taken a schoolboy’s mother on a six-hour trip by car over rough terrain to Farmer’s clinic in the central highlands so she could receive medical attention for AIDS symptoms. “I can still see the shocked look on Doug’s face when we said, `Sure, we’ll care for her,’ ” said Farmer, who today serves as the deputy U.N. envoy for rescue operations in the wake of Haiti’s massive earthquake in January.
At the convocation, few were surprised at the accolades for Perlitz. After all, Perlitz’s missionary zeal to aid poor Haitians seemed almost foreordained.
Perlitz was born June 23, 1970, and grew up in Barrington, Ill., a community of 10,000 northwest of Chicago that is among the wealthiest towns in the nation.
Religion was a cornerstone of his education. He attended Carmel Catholic High School in Mundelein, Ill., continuing his Catholic education at Fairfield University in 1988.
“I came to Fairfield studying communications so I could be the next voice of my beloved Denver Broncos,” Perlitz told university students during his 2002 commencement address. “I left wondering how I would learn to speak Kekchi to the Maya Indians in Belize.”
University classmates remember Perlitz as a “good athlete,” “pretty nice guy” and member of the school’s “God Squad.”
“I know he was very involved in Campus Ministry,” said Bill Murphy, a 1992 graduate who majored in English and now is a writer. “Oftentimes when you went to a campus party, you’d see the same students over and over again. I never recalled seeing Doug at one.”
Perlitz traveled to Haiti in his junior year. Upon returning, he formed the Student Coalition for Haitian Refugees. He seemed eager to tell anyone who would listen that his time in Haiti changed his life profoundly.
“The Haitians are the poorest people, but are the happiest and most faithful in God,” Perlitz was quoted as saying in a brochure commemorating his recognition in a student awards program.
After graduation, it was on to Belize, where Perlitz hoped to build orphanages, pave roads and plant crops as part of a two-year stint with the Jesuit International Corp. Instead, he became a teacher and counselor to 24 teenagers in Punta Gorda, a coastal town of 3,300 people.
By October 1994, he was back in the U.S., living in Massachusetts and working at Boston College on his master’s in theology, which he completed in 1996. But his love for Haiti brought him back. By the next year, he was working as a pastoral minister at Sacre Coeur Hospital in Milot.
Jacques Philome Jeanty, who broadcasts a Sunday night talk show on Radio Kontak Inter addressing children’s rights, recalled meeting Perlitz around that time.
“He was sleeping in the courtyard of the Hotel du Roi Christophe,” Jeanty said.
Jeanty said they’d talk about ways to help the thousands of kids abandoned by their parents and forced to live and sleep on Cap-Haïtien’s dangerous streets.
“I thought he was a serious man, a good man,” said Jeanty, a 40-year-old with his goatee and hair neatly trimmed. “But I wondered how can the poor help the poor.”
Nevertheless they became friends, and even shared an apartment until Jeanty began having concerns.
“Douglas was bringing children home to sleep,” Jeanty said. “I told him not to. But he never stopped.”
By 1997, Perlitz began looking for space to begin a program offering food, a change of clothes, some basic schooling and showers to homeless Cap-Haïtien boys. Connections through the Order of Malta, a Catholic organization providing medical and humanitarian aid, provided him with a grant that helped create Project Pierre Toussaint, named after a Haitian ex-slave who made a fortune in New York and shared it with orphans and the poor.
One of the first sites Perlitz used now houses a convent. He also used a large courtyard fronting the Sacre Coeur Church and the rectory of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, a Roman Catholic missionary group founded in France.
The Oblates became so impressed with Perlitz’s work that they rented him a two-story house in Bel Air two years later for $6,000 a year, with a stipulation that he build a $13,000 fence around the property to keep out homesteaders, vandals and trespassers. They also loaned him a large tract of landfill in Blue Hills — about six miles away from their congregation — where The Village was built.
Project Pierre Toussaint’s Village at Blue Hills was well on its way to becoming a compound. It would grow to encompass eight buildings — dormitories, classrooms, a dining hall and chapel, as well as athletic fields. And the Carinage intake facility in town handled kids who could transfer to The Village if they showed promise after six months.
By then, Perlitz needed more than handouts and grants from other religious organizations.
Back at Fairfield University was just the man who could help.
For 20 years, the Rev. Paul E. Carrier, S.J., was an institution at Fairfield University, first as an instructor for two years and later serving 18 years as chaplain and director of the school’s Campus Ministry. A charismatic speaker, he was a powerful advocate for ministry programs and social missions abroad — Haiti, in particular.
“He was a sweater guy,” said Paul Kendrick, a 1972 Fairfield University graduate who, as an alumnus, came to know Carrier. “He didn’t look like a priest. He looked like a regular guy — someone you could talk to and confide in.”
Michael Nowacki, a parishioner at St. Thomas More Church in Darien, called Carrier “one of the most dynamic homilists I ever heard.”
“He could take scripture and weave it with poetry and literature into a dynamic message,” Nowacki said.
Carrier had been a mentor to Perlitz during his student days and remained close with him afterward. In 1999, Carrier set about the task of financing Perlitz’s Haiti project beyond the collections that were taken up after services at Fairfield University’s Masses in the Egan Chapel.
He assisted in establishing the Haiti Fund, a nonprofit organization, and over the next several years helped recruit a roster of well-connected board members active in Catholic circles in Westchester and Fairfield counties. Among them: attorneys Philip Allen Lacovara and Thomas Tisdale; wealthy benefactor Hope Carter; and Suzanne McAvoy, Cathy Lozier and Deborah Picarazzi, all Fairfield University employees at that time.
Carrier visited Project Pierre Toussaint monthly, often leading groups of students for volunteer missions. He vacationed with Perlitz in the Bahamas, Project Pierre Toussaint staffers said. When CNN needed a guest to explain the impact of political upheaval in Haiti, the network’s reporters turned to the Jesuit priest.
Project Pierre Toussaint grew. Its reputation blossomed and donations poured in, bolstered by events like the February 2002 visit from Bishop William E. Lori of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport.
While at The Village, a student “rushed up and nervously put a religious medal on a string over my head and said a prayer over me,” Lori wrote of his visit.
There were news stories and radio interviews like the one Perlitz gave to Chicago Public Radio promoting the project.
The publicity prompted groups like Farmers to Farmers, Trees for the Future and veterinarians promoting rabbit farming to set up programs in The Village. Classes were offered in farming, roofing, concrete-block making and mechanics.
Perlitz’s school had acquired an international reputation by 2005. But it also had provoked whispers and rumors in Cap-Haïtien.
Students began writing graffiti on the tall concrete block walls surrounding the Carinage Intake Center regarding how some boys went home with Perlitz and what happened when they did. Each time staff painted over it, more would reappear.
The stories found their way to Cyrus Sibert, a street-smart investigative reporter in Cap-Haïtien who had shown a penchant for chasing down leads and taking on authority figures in his blogs and radio reports. An affable father of three who speaks Creole and English, Sibert had uncovered corruption in the local police department involving a kidnapping ring.
While attending a cultural festival in a Cap-Haïtien park, Sibert was approached by an acquaintance who told him an American helping street boys also was abusing them.
Before long, Sibert began doing legwork on the allegations he was hearing. He spoke with boys. He interviewed Project Pierre Toussaint employees, many of whom were reluctant to talk, Sibert said.
” `We don’t want to lose our jobs.’ ” Sibert said he was told by workers. ” `The kids will be back on the streets fending for themselves. The project will be closed.’ ”
Joseph Excellent is a gaunt, 46-year-old man who taught math, grammar, reading and science at Project Pierre Toussaint for almost nine years.
Earning a salary in a city where unemployment nears 85 percent and most people live on less than $1 a day was a godsend. As a teacher with Project Pierre Toussaint, his salary started at $45 a month in 2000 and grew to $100 in 2008.
Excellent said, “The kids believed so much in Doug — that he would take them to another level in life.”
But too often, he claimed, Perlitz was taking them to his bedroom. “Doug did not have to answer to anyone,” he said.
Sibert broke his first story on Aug. 19, 2007.
Around that time, Louis Petit-Frère, an investigator with the Institut du Bien Etre Social de Recherches, whose responsibilities are similar to Connecticut’s Department of Children and Families, recalled finding several anonymous notes posted on his door when he arrived at work.
Petit-Frère described the notes as “saying sick things…that boys were staying with Douglas in the evening, he was promising things” in exchange for sex.
“Since nobody signed them, I was put into a situation where I could not do anything,” Petit-Frère said. “I knew Justice wouldn’t begin an investigation based on anonymous notes posted on doors and walls.”
Still, Petit-Frère confronted Perlitz.
“He denied the rumors,” Petit-Frère said. Faced with managing thousands of other cases and no budget to mount an investigation, he dropped the matter.
In Haiti, there is no real government structure for preventing child abuse.
A U.N. official in Haiti who spoke on the condition he not be identified said the juvenile justice system in Cap-Haïtien is rudimentary, with no juvenile court or juvenile detention center and few social workers.
“There’s a complete lack of everything,” he said. “It’s unclear as to how many orphanages are operating. There are no legal papers. It’s difficult to assess.”
He suspects a number of young children have been taken abroad. “Trafficking is a serious problem, but its very difficult to quantify,” he said. “The government is completely dysfunctional.”
Furthermore, the proliferation of orphans and street children has created an environment where the youngsters are almost disposable, said Jeanty, the radio host.
“Kids have no rights in Haiti,” he said. “If they are abused, they just accept the situation.”
At Project Pierre Toussaint, an invisible but unmistakable caste system had taken root, employees said. There were Perlitz’s favorites, who could avoid discipline and expect gifts, treats, outings and sleepovers at the school founder’s house. And then there were the rest of the boys. Some of the latter group began acting out their frustrations. They would taunt Perlitz’s favorites, calling them “Madame Douglas.”
The staff was having difficulty controlling things, said Margaret Joseph, whom Perlitz hired in 2000 as Project Pierre Toussaint’s social worker. “When employee meetings were scheduled in Doug’s house, we would always notice kids being there,” Joseph said through a translator. “Maids and gardeners told me kids were sleeping in his room.”
Staffers suggested to Perlitz that he keep his distance from the boys.
“He’d say it was a good idea, but he never changed,” Joseph said.
Perlitz acknowledged to federal agents that he “permitted children to stay overnight in his room with him but he denied any sexual contact with these children,” according to a court document filed by the prosecution.
Kendrick, the Fairfield University graduate who had become an advocate for sex-abuse victims, visited Project Pierre Toussaint. At first an admirer of Perlitz’s work, Kendrick became alarmed when he saw Perlitz associating with a former priest who had moved to Haiti after being defrocked for allegedly abusing minors in the U.S.
And Cyrus Sibert kept digging.
As he continued to investigate Perlitz, Sibert began releasing more and more details in his reports.
Then, no longer was it only the employees or victims’ relatives urging him to stop with his stories of abuse at Project Pierre Toussaint. Merchants who depended on the missionaries, visitors and professionals the school attracted were also angry, he said.
“They were making a lot of money off this,” Sibert said. “Rich, responsible people are very mad at me.”
Without Sibert’s persistent reporting, the stories about Perlitz would have been ignored, said Georgemain Prophète, delegate to the north section and the most powerful politician in Cap-Haïtien. Haiti’s bare-bones social service agencies have neither the resources, experience nor inclination to investigate such allegations.
“Cyrus by himself saw what we didn’t see,” said Prophète. “He did what we didn’t do.”
In October 2007, prodded by Sibert’s radio reports, Inspector Jean Myrthil Joseph of the Haitian National Police in Port-au-Prince, with the assistance of United Nations investigators specializing in sex crimes cases, began looking into the allegations against Perlitz.
The investigators spoke with Sibert and Jeanty, and over the next months interviewed more than a dozen people, including several boys who said they had sex with Perlitz.
A copy of the 30-page Haitian National Police investigative report was shown to Hearst Connecticut Newspapers. Among the accounts it contained:
• A boy claimed Perlitz climbed into his bed during a 1999 visit at the Project Pierre Toussaint founder’s home. He told police Perlitz laid on top of him and began kissing him. He claimed Perlitz rubbed against him until ejaculating. This accuser identified others he claimed were abused by Perlitz.
• Another boy, incarcerated for stealing, told a similar story: Perlitz invited him to watch a movie and sleep over. The boy awoke to Perlitz caressing and kissing his body. While he shunned Perlitz’s offer to perform oral sex, he did allow Perlitz to masturbate him. The boy agreed to masturbate Perlitz.
• A third boy told of falling asleep in Perlitz’s home only to be awakened by Perlitz performing oral sex on him. The boy told police he found a magazine displaying graphic homosexual behavior that was autographed to Perlitz. The magazine was given to a Village staffer, who confronted Perlitz, only to be told it meant nothing.
• Three students were treated on several occasions for cuts and bruises on their penises, but police could not confirm that the injuries resulted from sexual abuse.
• Others told police one boy was admitted to the hospital after being sodomized by Perlitz.
Dr. Jean-Gracia Coq, medical director of the Justinien Hospital, which rests high on a hill and spans more than a block on 17th Street, remembered the boy who was admitted in 2005 because of rectal bleeding. Dr. Joseph Jean Lenic, a resident at the time, also recalled the boy “with blood coming out of his anus.”
“The resident treating him thought it was typhoid,” Lenic said. A digital probe of the boy’s rectum was performed, but no definitive evidence of forced sexual penetration was found. “We didn’t have the equipment to do a more extensive examination,” he said.
More information could not be provided because the hospital discards records for lack of space, Coq said. “I am trying to reform the system of archiving.”
Word of the alleged abuses filtered back to America. The Project Pierre Toussaint leadership and staff were confronted by the Haiti Fund board in November of 2007. A lawyer, Richard Markart, was hired to oversee an investigation. Perlitz denied the accusation, and the inquiry was dropped — until April of the following year.
That’s when an employee of Project Pierre Toussaint interviewed an alleged victim of abuse and advised the board of that information. The board hired a private investigation firm from Port-au-Prince to interview staff and students. Perlitz was placed on leave in May 2008.
This split the Haiti Fund’s board between members who supported Perlitz and those who wanted an independent investigation.
Carrier, once the chairman, was told to resign by his order, the Society of Jesus, New England Province of Jesuits, in early May. Later, Michael McCooey, who was a significant donor to the Haiti Fund, as was his mother, became chairman.
Perlitz loyalists departed. Hope Carter, the widow of a wealthy insurance company executive and an influential member with ties to the Order of Malta, stepped down in mid-June. A month later, Debbie Picarazzi and Cathy Lozier resigned, upset over the way the board was handling the investigation. Suzanne MacAvoy, a respected nursing professor, was voted off. All three were Fairfield University employees at the time.
Carter, Lozier and MacAvoy declined requests for interviews.
In June 2008, McCooey traveled to Haiti to visit the school. While there, the Haitian National Police advised him of its findings.
In an Aug. 30, 2008, letter to the fund’s 1,300 donors, McCooey announced the hiring of Saba Hamilton, a former senior director for CARE and county director for Catholic Relief Services, as the interim director.
“On behalf of the Board and all of those associated with Project Pierre Toussaint, I wish to assure you that the Haiti Fund remains committed to continuing the vital work of caring for the street children of Cap-Haïtien and to building on the program’s ten years of positive accomplishments,” he wrote. “We are pleased to inform you that books and supplies have already been ordered and that school will start on Sept. 10, 2008. Because of your caring, over 300 street children in Cap-Haïtien will be off the streets and in classrooms.”
Or so he thought.
A week later, another letter was mailed to the Project Pierre Toussaint support community. This one blasted McCooey, the new board and what the letter’s signers declared were trumped-up allegations against Perlitz brought about by greed, bribes, corruption and dehumanizing poverty. It was signed by 12 people, including Carrier, Carter, Lozier, MacAvoy and Picarazzi, as well as Thomas and Jeanie Tisdale and Philip and Madeline Lacovara.
“Business leaders and friends of the Project in Cap-Haïtien believe that the culture of poverty and financial incentives are at the root of pressuring the kids to speak against Doug,” the letter read. “Projects with foreign backing are seen as opportunities for financial exploitation and the Haitian staff members involved in this smear campaign are hoping to receive financial gain.
“… American volunteers who have worked with this Project over many years do not believe these allegations and have signed letters and affidavits to this effect. Haitian business leaders and high level U.S. Embassy personnel in Cap-Haïtien do not believe these allegations. American human rights observers and trauma professions (including Amber Gray) all of whom lived and worked in Haiti for many years and who understand the Haitian culture do not believe these allegations. Father Carrier, SJ, does not believe these allegations.”
But the Haitian National Police, the United Nations investigative team and, ultimately, the U.S. Justice Department did believe them. In early 2009, the Haitian police recommended Perlitz be arrested. By then, he had left the country, never to return to The Village, and probably was beyond the reach of Haiti’s law enforcement.
The U.S. authorities had at their disposal a 2003 law that allows them to prosecute American citizens who travel abroad to commit sex crimes. According to court documents, agents seized Perlitz’s laptop computer during his September 2009 arrest in Colorado. Their examination determined that a user named “Doug” was searching the Internet, using phrases like “gay boys black,” “Colorado Haitians,” “africa boyz” and “boys first time.” They also uncovered over 100 images, many of which were “younger-looking black males engaged in graphic homosexual activity,” the documents say.
And they also had the Haitian police report.
Perlitz returned to Connecticut, where he has pleaded not guilty to charges. At his initial hearing, the courtroom was packed with dozens of his supporters, who offered to raise $5 million bond and give him a place to live and work.
Fairfield County is home to more than 11,000 Haitians, with the largest concentration in Stamford and then in Bridgeport. At Perlitz’s bail hearing in November, two dozen Haitian-Americans came to demand that he not be released. Perlitz’s lawyers withdrew their bond request moments before the hearing was to begin.
Perlitz remains in a Rhode Island prison cell.
His lawyer, William Dow, repeatedly declined requests from Hearst Connecticut Newspapers to interview Perlitz.
“The appropriate venue to address these allegations is in court where witnesses are sworn and cross-examined and their credibility can be evaluated by a jury,” he said. “Mr. Perlitz is entitled to a fair trial where the government has to prove the allegations beyond reasonable doubt.”
Perlitz will be tried on the charges in court. But a trial of a different sort now rages in Cap-Haïtien.
Perlitz is innocent, the victim of a conspiracy to pay boys to make scurrilous allegations, some say.
Perlitz and his supporters are trying to scare or buy off the victims of abuse, counter others.
On two hot, muggy December days, nine of Perlitz’s prize students trooped onto the veranda of the Hotel du Roi Christophe in Cap-Haïtien.
One is an honor student, another a soccer star, a third an aspiring teacher. One claimed he was kidnapped, beaten and left to die in one of the few public toilets near The Village, his beloved school, as a warning to Perlitz — his “adopted father.” Others said the kidnapping was a message to stay away from another man’s woman.
Still, each wanted the world to know their Douglas Perlitz — the man they claim lifted them out of the street, gave them a future when they had none and never sexually abused them or anyone else.
All of the nine — several of whom are identified in the Haitian National Police report as abuse victims of Perlitz — said they never were molested by him. All of the nine also said they were never interviewed by investigators. Federal investigators’ statements indicate that none of the nine are listed as victims in the indictments.
One by one, each sat down separately at a table. Their eyes furtively scanned the other tables, the bar, the restaurant. Some asked to move further inside, fearing that people are listening to them. Each vowed to repeat the same story to a jury in Connecticut if given the chance.
“The Village provided everything one needed in life,” said Jackson, now 22 and one of the earliest students. “The Village was my savior.”
There, Jackson learned to read and write. He learned responsibility by performing chores and completing his homework before being allowed to play soccer.
The effort paid off. Jackson scored first among all city students seeking admission to Cap-Haïtien’s top private school — quite an accomplishment for the dirty, barefoot boy whose mother threw him onto the streets to beg.
During his 2002 commencement speech at Fairfield University, Perlitz said Jackson exemplified the transformational work at Project Pierre Toussaint. “This kid, Jackson, was totally, totally from the street,” Perlitz said. “Look at what he did. That’s what keeps me going.”
The others at the interview, Ti-Guy, Willie Felix, Wilno Joseph, JJ, Wismon, Pedro, Gisman and Wendy, all said that meeting Perlitz and getting into The Village changed their lives.
“I am proud, I can write my name,” said Willie Felix, his voice choking with emotion. “I didn’t have an education, and society rejected me. Now I feel like I’m part of society, thanks to Douglas, who I see as my adopted father.”
Ti-Guy, a tall, well-spoken 22-year-old, said that after The Village shut down a former Project Pierre Toussaint employee called a meeting of the students. He urged them to invent lies about Perlitz being an abuser, which would allow the facility to reopen, the young man said. This, Ti-Guy explained, was part of a plot to take over the school.
” `You’ll be able to eat again, you won’t be walking on the street,’ ” Ti-Guy said the former employee told them. “When the kids realized that, they agreed.”
Ti-Guy said he refused to go along. Wendy, JJ, Jackson, Willie, Wilno, Wismon and Pedro also said they refused money, meals and booze. Some said the ex-employee flashed as much as $40,000.
Hearst Connecticut Newspapers interviewed the former employee. He denied the allegations and scoffed at the former students’ claims.
`”I never gave them money or offered them money,” he said by telephone from his apartment in pre-earthquake Port-au-Prince. “I never, never bought them beer or got them drunk. I never, never took them to a restaurant. They know they are not telling the truth. I know that, and they know that.”
He denied he was part of any attempt to oust Perlitz.
In an Oct. 27, 2009, motion to deny Perlitz bond, Assistant U.S. Attorney Krishna Patel contended that telephone records showed that up until his arrest, Perlitz was still in contact with a group of unnamed former Project Pierre Toussaint students.
“These individuals communicate with Perlitz about providing them with money. Western Union records have confirmed that beginning in 2008 and continuing through 2009, Perlitz was sending money to a group of individuals in Haiti. The Government is aware that most of the wire transfers were to individuals formerly enrolled in Project Pierre Toussaint.”
The government, Patel’s motion continued, believes the wired money “was done to buy the silence of additional children.”
Dow, Perlitz’s lawyer, disputed that claim. “Doug and prominent longtime supporters of PPT could not stand by while these young men were abandoned after they refused to go along with claims they knew to be false,” said Dow in an e-mailed statement. “A large group of individuals, including Doug, attempted to fill the huge void left in these young men’s lives when support from PPT was abruptly cut off. These actions were motivated by basic humanitarian concern. Any allegations to the contrary are baseless.”
Such is the grinding poverty and hopelessness of life in Haiti that truth is for sale to whomever cares to pay, said Liam Pigott, a Canadian retiree who lives part of the year in Haiti. Pigott was a friend of Perlitz’s who occasionally visited him at Project Pierre Toussaint and watched NFL games with him at a Haitian hotel. Bribes against Perlitz? Bribes to support him? Either would be believable, he said.
“Money is everything here,” Pigott said. “Cash is king. If somebody thought they were going to get money, it wouldn’t surprise me what they’d do.”
Federal investigators dismissed the suggestion that the claims against Perlitz were fabricated, pointing to the most recent indictment on Jan. 28 that added nine more boys to the roster of Perlitz’s purported victims.
All 18 of the boys named as victims in the indictments have been interviewed by federal investigators, court papers and government sources say.
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These days, the Rev. Paul Carrier, once such a visible figure in Fairfield County, has disappeared from public view.
He was a homilist at St. Thomas Moore in Darien after his reassignment from Fairfield University in 2006. But he stopped serving Mass after a parishioner, Michael Nowacki, late last year publicly demanded an explanation of Carrier’s role in Project Pierre Toussaint.
Nowacki leafletted fellow parishioners’ cars to call attention to Carrier’s role. He attempted to speak out during a Mass at St. Thomas in October, but was escorted to the door and almost arrested by police officers summoned to the church.
Nowacki also accused St. Thomas More of failing to make a full disclosure about the money contributed by parishioners to Carrier for his Haiti program. So Nowacki said he turned to federal authorities and Attorney General Richard Blumenthal to investigate. Blumenthal confirmed that his office is looking into Nowacki’s complaint and awaiting additional documentation.
Calls and e-mails to the Rev. J. Barry Furey, pastor of St. Thomas More, were not returned.
Of late, Carrier has been saying private Masses in the homes of some Fairfield County parishioners, sources said. A spokesperson for the New England Province of Jesuits said that Carrier does not have an assignment, but that does not preclude him from celebrating Mass. The spokesperson declined to disclose Carrier’s location or make him available for an interview.
Federal investigators continue to sift through the tangled finances of Perlitz’s program. The Congregation Oblates of Mary Immaculate in Cap-Haïtien, which rented its house to Perlitz, is owed at least $25,000, the order said.
At Fairfield University, Stanley A. Twardy Jr., a Stamford lawyer and Connecticut’s former U.S. attorney, has been hired to conduct an investigation into the school’s financial relationship with Perlitz.
The results of that review are expected Feb. 17.
Reopening the Cap-Haïtien program “is entirely up to the current Board of the Haiti Fund Inc.,” President Jeffrey von Arx said in a statement last week.
The university “is committed to help support such an effort and we have reached out to non-profit organizations that we hope will be interested in the program to help facilitate a conversation with the Haiti Fund board.”
McCooey is not sure that is possible. The network of hundreds of donors that once bankrolled Perlitz’s project has been sundered by the allegations. Contributions have dried up.
Furthermore, the Jan. 12 earthquake has made Haiti one of the century’s biggest catastrophes, and the already-vast relief effort under way is barely able to keep hundreds of thousands of Haitians alive. The plight of a school that served a few hundred street boys is overshadowed by the far-larger crisis.
While the earthquake mostly spared Cap-Haïtien, the city nonetheless is sharing in the agony of the country’s latest misery.
Kendrick, the advocate for children who have been sexually abused, was in Cap Haïtien at the time of the earthquake. He views the demise of Project Pierre Toussaint as a humanitarian disaster of its own. If ever there was a time and a need for Project Pierre Toussaint, it is now, Kendrick said.
“Displaced survivors of the earthquake, half of whom are children, are already fleeing from Port-au-Prince in search of food, water and shelter,” he said. “The streets of Cap-Haïtien are becoming even more crowded with children who have nowhere else to go.”