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More Haitian boys sue Perlitz, Fairfield U. in abuse scandal

Michael P. Mayko, Fairfield Citizen-News
Published 10:30 am, Thursday, January 5, 2012
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Seventeen more Haitian street boys claim they were abused sexually by Douglas Perlitz -- an honored Fairfield University graduate who established a program to feed, clothe, educate and even house them -- and that nothing was done to stop the abuse by people and organizations involved in the program.

The lawsuits, filed in federal court Wednesday by New Haven lawyers Steven Errante and Marisa Bellair, seek $20 million in damages for each plaintiff from each of the 18 defendants.

Mitchell Garabedian, a Boston lawyer who has successfully sued numerous Catholic priests for sexually abusing children, drafted the complaints and will seek permission to represent the plaintiffs at trial.

The suits bring to 21 the number of plaintiffs who claim they were abused by Perlitz in his Project Pierre Toussaint program between 1998 and 2008. The suits allege that the youngest student was 9 years old when first abused and the oldest 21; most were between 14 and 16, according to the lawsuits.

Additionally, the lawsuits claim, assaults took place in any of three places in Haiti -- Perlitz's rented home in Bel Air; the dormitory of the residential school in Blue Hills, and a hotel room in Port-au-Prince, Haiti's capital.

Named as defendants are: Perlitz; the Rev. Paul E. Carrier and his Society of Jesus New England Province order; Fairfield University; Hope Carter, a New Canaan philanthropist and the Haiti Fund, a nonprofit organization designed to raise money for Perlitz's program. It also says there are 12 other yet-to-be-named defendants.

Lawyers for Fairfield University, the Haiti Fund, the Society of Jesus, Carter and Carrier have filed motions to dismiss three earlier suits brought, saying their clients had no responsibility for Perlitz's actions.

The suits charge only Perlitz with sexual abuse. The suits claim he threatened the victims with expulsion from the program or denied them food and clothing if they didn't give in to his demands.

The remaining defendants are accused of negligence in hiring, supervising or directing Perlitz and breaching their fiduciary duties in preventing the child abuse.

The new suits bring to 21 the number of plaintiffs. It is expected that all of the cases will be consolidated for trial before U.S. District Judge Janet C. Hall in Bridgeport.

Perlitz pleaded guilty in federal court to traveling from the U.S. to Haiti to engage in sexual conduct with a minor. During his sentencing, he admitted abusing seven of the boys. He is serving a 19-year, seven-month sentence at the federal prison in Seagoville, Texas.

Additionally, the suits charge Perlitz with violating international law and United Nations regulations by abusing the children. They accuse Carrier, Carter and five of the yet-to-be named defendants in aiding and abetting his violation of international law by allegedly failing to stop the abuse.

The plaintiffs' lawyers are expected to announce the filings during a conference at the Delmar Hotel in Southport late Thursday morning.

Perlitz, with the help of money from the Order of Malta, of which Carter is involved, and donations through Mass collections at Fairfield University and the Haiti Fund, created Project Pierre Toussaint. The program grew into a three-phase operation to help abandoned young boys living on the streets of Cap-Haitien, Haiti's second largest city.