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Report distances Fairfield U. from Perlitz, exposes holes in financial oversight

Tim Lo, Fairfield Citizen-News
Published 1:05 am, Friday, February 19, 2010
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An outside investigation into Fairfield University's early knowledge of the sexual misconduct allegations against Douglas Perlitz found no evidence of wrongdoing by the school's administration.

The review, which concluded Tuesday morning, did raise questions about the university's financial oversight, however, digging up $120,000 in undocumented payments made by the school's campus ministry that could have been funneled into Perlitz's program.

Perlitz, 39, a 1992 graduate of Fairfield University, founded Project Pierre Toussaint, a school for orphaned and abandoned boys in Cap-Haitien, Haiti, in 1997. In 2002, he gave the commencement address at the university's graduation and received an honorary degree. He now faces federal charges of sexually abusing 18 Haitian boys between 1998 and 2008.

Whisperings of the allegations against him reportedly first arose in Haiti during the fall of 2007. But the internal review, carried out by the Stamford-based law firm Day Pitney LLP, found that the university's administration was unaware of the allegations until a half year later.

The report found no legal or fiduciary link between Perlitz's program and the university.

But the financial ties were strong. The $120,000 in undocumented payments came from campus ministry accounts to Rev. Paul Carrier, who served for 18 years as the school's campus ministry director, and also chaired the Haiti Fund, a nonprofit he created in 2001 to raise money for Project Pierre Toussaint.

So although the five-month investigation carries no legal weight, it sheds light into the university's ties to Perlitz, Project Pierre Toussaint and the Haiti Fund prior to May 2, 2008. That's the date when Rev. Jeffrey von Arx, the university's president, first received word of allegations against Perlitz during a phone call with a Haiti Fund representative, according to the report.

The probe combined interviews with 22 current and former university employees, four private software workers at the school and the former head of the Jesuit order in this region, Rev. Thomas Regan.

Regan removed Carrier from his campus ministry post in April, 2006. During the review, he denied the decision involved Carrier's work with the Haiti Fund or allegations of sexual misconduct against Perlitz. Asked whether Regan offered an alternative explanation during the investigation, Stanely Twardy Jr., a lawyer at Day Pitney, said no.

In addition to the interviews, a forensic accounting firm -- UHY Advisors FLVS Inc. -- helped analyze around 29,000 documents -- the majority of them e-mails in the university's computer system that were used to verify interview statements -- as well as more than 10 years of the university's financial records, Twardy said.

Neither Perlitz nor Carrier were interviewed during the review. Perlitz sits in federal prison awaiting trial. Carrier declined interview requests through his lawyer, Twardy said.

The university's board of trustees called for the investigation last September, after Perlitz was indicted on 10 counts of flying to Haiti to engage in sexual conduct with minors, which is a federal offense. Late last month, a federal grand jury tacked eight additional counts to the indictment.

At Wednesday afternoon's presentation, a few dozen people filled the Dolan Business School dining hall.

Many people had ashen crosses on their foreheads, a sign of the day's significance in the Catholic Church: the first day of Lent, the beginning of the Easter season.

After opening remarks by von Arx and Paul Huston, chairman of the university's board of trustees, Twardy spoke.

He said the investigation found no evidence that the administration knew of allegations against Perlitz before May 2008 and that Carrier's removal in April 2006 appeared unrelated to the allegations. Then he outlined the report's financial findings.

Between 2001 and 2008, he said, the Haiti Fund reported receipts of $3,490,000. The investigation found that around $51,000, or 1.5 percent of the total receipts, came directly from university accounts. There was also an additional $23,000 in undeclared payments made to Carrier from the campus ministry operating budget during that period, he said. Those funds could have funneled into Perlitz's program, but no evidence of that was found.

About $604,000 flowed through the university between 1997 and 2008 to benefit Project Pierre Toussaint, he continued. Those funds consisted primarily in donations made by individuals at Sunday morning mass in the on-campus Egan Chapel, as well as in donations to the university's office of development earmarked for Project Pierre Toussaint.

Finally, $97,500 in undeclared payments came from restricted campus ministry accounts to Carrier between 1997 and 2008, Twardy said, which could also have gone toward Perlitz's program, though no evidence was found.

The report concluded that, in total, a possible $775,500 might have gone to Project Pierre Toussaint between 1997 and 2008 from university accounts and from donations made through the university's institutions. That amount would correlate to about 22 percent of the total funds that the Haiti Fund reportedly raised from 2001 to 2008.

After the half-hour presentation, Huston commented on the report to the Fairfield Citizen.

"We're pleased that the investigation uncovered no wrongdoing on anyone's part," he said. "We're disappointed that we learned that the financial controls in campus ministry were lacking. But we're focused on assisting with others in the community to restart Project Pierre Toussaint."