Two dozen impoverished Haitian boys who were sexually abused for years by a Connecticut man who started a charitable effort to help them will finally have access to basic necessities like food, shelter and clothing.
That's because a $12 million settlement was reached on their behalf. Under the settlement agreement approved last month, each boy will receive $500,000 from Fairfield University and other charities that were accused of failing to supervise Douglas Perlitz while he ran the outreach programs to help street children in Haiti. The settlement ends a civil lawsuit against Perlitz, who co-founded a school and residential center in Cap-Haitien where the boys were raped, and several organizations that funded the relief programs, including Fairfield University, The Society of Jesus of New England and the Haiti Fund Inc.
"For years our clients would call me and ask me to send them food because they had none or ask me to send them clothing because they had none," said Mitchell Garabedian, a Boston lawyer who represented the plaintiffs in their individual lawsuits against the defendants. "These victims are street children who had very little if any food, water, shelter or medicine to speak of. And to be sexually abused in such a condition is unspeakable."
The saga surrounding the programs spanned 1,575 miles between the tourist town on the north coast of Haiti where the school was located and Fairfield University, which provided much of the funding for needy street children. Court records indicate Perlitz had close ties to the university and to its former chaplain, Father Paul Carrier. In 2002, records show, Perlitz was the commencement speaker at Fairfield University's commencement.
Perlitz co-founded the Project Pierre Toussaint school in 1997 to provide services to children including meals, sports activities, basic classroom instruction, and access to running water for baths. The project continued to expand and, in 1999, a residential facility, Village Pierre Toussaint was added. The Village was staffed primarily by Haitians, but Perlitz was directly involved.
For nearly a decade, from 1999 to 2008, Perlitz victimized the young boys under the guise of providing them with access to food, clothing and running water. After the crimes were reported to authorities, Perlitz was eventually charged and convicted of sexual abuse. He is currently serving a 20-year prison sentence.
Garabedian filed a lawsuit in 2011 against Perlitz, Father Paul Carrier, Fairfield University, Hope E. Carter, The Society of Jesus of New England and the Haiti Fund, Inc. Carrier and the others were sued for negligent supervision, because they failed to adequately oversee Perlitz's involvement in the day to day operations of the school.
The primary means of funding for the programs was the Haiti Fund Inc. which was incorporated in 1999 as a charitable, religious and educational organization in Connecticut, and operated as the fund-raising arm of PPT. The Haiti Fund raised large sums of money through fund-raising efforts in Connecticut.
Carrier, a former chaplain at Fairfield University, served as a director of the Haiti Fund. The University raised $600,000 for the Haiti Fund and sent student volunteers to Haiti to help with the program, all under Carrier's supervision.
According to the victims' lawsuit, as far back as 1988, when Carrier was chaplain of Fairfield University, he engaged in a sexual relationship with a freshman student. Garabedian also claims that Perlitz told a number of the Haiti victims that Carrier was the person who introduced him to homosexual activities while he was a student.
According to court documents, Perlitz would fly to Haiti from New York or Florida, often after attending fundraising events for the programs in Connecticut. Until about 2008, Perlitz repeatedly molested the boys, ranging in age from nine to 21 years old. Perlitz would promise the boys food and shelter and other benefits, including cash, cell phones, electronics, shoes, and clothes to entice the boys to comply with the sex acts. Those who didn't comply were not given even basic necessities.
Garabedian said one teen allowed Perlitz to abuse him so that he would not abuse his younger brother. The victims now range in age from 19 to 30 years old, he added.
"Douglas Perlitz would tell the children that if he wasn't allowed to sexually molest them he would not give them food, shelter or money," said Garabedian.
Garabedian said he visited Haiti in preparation of his lawsuit a few times.
"The dire straits the Haitian people are in is shocking, the diseases, lack of basic necessities of life is stunning, eye opening," said Garabedian. "To think individuals in such conditions were sexually molested repeatedly while supervisors turned their backs on the children is almost unspeakable."
Included in the counts of the lawsuit was negligent supervision. The lawsuit claims that other staffers and volunteers would stay at Perlitz's home in Haiti and knew that many of the boys would spend the night and sleep in Perlitz's bedroom. Many of the victims told other staffers what was going on, according to Garabedian, and many of the victims loudly complained when raped "such that other persons in the house could have and would have heard them," said Garabedian.
The lawsuit also claims Carrier should have known what was going on when he would visit and stay at the home and did nothing about it. Despite the warning signs, he said the charities continued raising and giving funds for the program.
Prior to reaching a settlement agreement in the case late last month, the defendants filed motions to dismiss the claims.
Stanley Twardy, Jr., of Day Pitney, and a former U.S. Attorney, represented Fairfield University. He argued that since Fairfield University did not employ Perlitz, they had no authority to supervise him or have any reason to know of his criminal behavior.
"The University had no reason to foresee that the director of Project Pierre Toussaint selected by Haiti Fund would engage in criminal misconduct, or that Father Carrier — acting outside the scope of his employment with the University — allegedly would participate in a cover-up of that misconduct," Twardy wrote in court documents.
Lawyers for the other defendants made similar claims in court filings prior to the settlement. Defense lawyers for the other defendants did not return calls for comment.
Garabedian said several counts of his lawsuit, including violations of international law, were dismissed but that the main negligent supervision count had survived.
Garabedian said the two sides in the lawsuit which was filed in U.S. District Court in Connecticut went to mediation in Boston before mediator C. Judson Hamlin, a retired Superior Court judge from New Jersey. Garabedian said that since numerous lawyers and insurance carriers were involved, the process took three months. The case settles all 22 lawsuits with all the various defendants that were brought by victims of Perlitz's abuse.
Garabedian said he was unsure if the victims would continue living in Haiti.
"Right now the victims are very happy," said Garabedian. "They're satisfied they can buy food, medicine, clothing and shelter for themselves and their loved ones."
Though agreeing to pay a combined $12 million, the defendants were all quick to say they did not admit any liability as part of the settlement agreement.
"The University has not admitted liability but is pleased to put this matter behind it," said Twardy, who noted that the University was "confident" it could have prevailed at a trial.
"The settlement agreement does not constitute an admission of liability," said Alice Poltorick, a spokesman for the New England Province of the Society of Jesus."Project Pierre Toussaint was not a mission of the Province. Nevertheless, a member of the Province served on its board and we worked to address these claims diligently and with great sensitivity. It is our hope that this money will help care for those who were harmed by Douglas Perlitz. We continue to pray for all those involved."
A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office said Perlitz was the only person charged and sentenced as part of the criminal investigation, which has concluded.