Former Fairfield resident Douglas Perlitz's descent into sexually abusing homeless Haitian street boys he set out to help is linked to "a dark and abusive relationship," both "physical and spiritual," that he developed with a Fairfield University priest shortly after his arrival on campus in 1988, according to a document filed by his lawyers.

Nowhere in any of the documents is the priest identified by name.

The lawyers claim this relationship, along with Perlitz's struggles with homosexuality, the stress of living up to the iconic standards expected of him, the sudden death of his father and a battle with alcoholism all played a role in what happened with at least eight male teenagers on the campus of Project Pierre Toussaint in Cap-Haitien, Haiti's second largest city.

David Grudberg and William F. Dow III, Perlitz's lawyers, have asked U.S. District Judge Janet Bond Arterton to take all this into consideration when she imposes sentence Dec. 21 on the honored Fairfield U. graduate.

At that time, Perlitz faces anywhere from eight years to nearly 20 years in prison for traveling from the U.S. to Haiti with the intention of engaging in sex with an underage boy.

Although he pleaded guilty to only one charge, Perlitz admitted engaging "in sexual misconduct with eight minors in their late teens who were part of the Project Pierre Toussaint program," his lawyers acknowledge in their sentencing memorandum.

"In many ways the abuse of power and trust that manifested itself in Doug's own painful relationship with the priest recurred in his own conduct with some of the young adults of Project Pierre Toussaint," Grudberg wrote the judge in seeking leniency.

Grudberg informed the judge that Perlitz's relationship with priest continued "for many years, including during all of his work in Haiti."

The New Haven lawyer said Perlitz's first exposure to Haiti came as a Fairfield University student.

"He traveled with a campus group (including the priest) for a 10-day project, working in the community," the lawyer noted.

In 1997, Perlitz returned to Haiti. It wasn't long before he developed friendships in Cap-Haitien, obtained money to start an intake center where homeless boys could shower, eat and receive rudimentary schooling. As money flowed in through donations given by the Fairfield University and wealthy Fairfield and Westchester County Catholics, the program grew into Project Pierre Toussaint. It employed 35 people and provided for over 200 kids.

"Doug was elevated and lauded by supporters of the program, as well as by the priest who had been such an integral part of his life since his earliest days at Fairfield," Grudberg wrote. "He had remained intertwined in Doug's life following his graduation and played a major role in PPT as well."

One priest who played a key role in Perlitz's life from his days at Fairfield through his years in Haiti was the Rev. Paul Carrier, who served as the university's director of campus ministry and chaplain for 18 years.

Carrier took students on missions to Haiti.

It was Carrier who, in 1999, set about raising money for Perlitz' program in a pitch for donations following "dynamic" homilies in Masses at the school's Egan Chapel. At least $775,000 was raised over 10 years there. However, the school announced in February it could not account for $120,500 of that money.

Carrier also helped establish the Haiti Fund, a nonprofit organization which he used to recruit well-connected wealthy area Catholics to sit on the board.

The priest visited Project Pierre Toussaint nearly once a month, called Perlitz nearly every day and vacationed with Perlitz, several former employees and students in Haiti told the Connecticut Post last December.

Carrier, who is believed to be living in Stamford, could not be reached for comment.

After-hours calls and e-mails to his order, the Society of Jesus New England Province in Massachusetts, as well as to Timothy P. O'Neill, Carrier's lawyer, were not returned late Monday.

In the past, both have declined comment when asked about Carrier's role with Perlitz's project.

The defense lawyers' arguments for leniency for Perlitz are likely to be countered later this week in a sentencing memorandum from Assistant U.S. Attorney Krishna Patel. She is expected to point out that Perlitz already received a break from the government by being allowed to plead guilty to only one charge. She also claims that he sexually abused at least 13 boys in Haiti.

Prosecutors have made arrangements to bring six of Perlitz's victims from Haiti to testify during the sentencing hearing.

Sources said the judge has received dozens of letters calling for a harsh sentence from the Haitian community. Those letters come as a result of requests made by the Haitian Lawyers Leadership Network headed by Marguerite Laurent and Henri Alexandre, a retired state assistant attorney general.

But Perlitz's defense countered with a letter-writing campaign of its own. His lawyers said dozens of people have written Arterton on Perlitz's behalf. "Some supporters of PPT have in the past described Doug Perlitz as the `face of Christ on Earth,' " noted Grudberg.

"One of the great difficulties in this case is how to reconcile the Douglas Perlitz who is described in such exceptional and glowing terms in those letters with the Douglas Perlitz who has admitted engaging in sexual misconduct," the lawyer wrote.