Fairfield U., others, settle sex-abuse claims for $61 million
Fairfield University is among several affiliated religious groups that have agreed to pay a $61 million settlement following lawsuits alleging sexual abuse at a school for homeless boys in Haiti.
Douglas Perlitz, a former Fairfield University graduate, founded and operated the school in Haiti. He pleaded guilty in August 2010 to one charge of traveling overseas to engage in sex with a minor.
“Fairfield and other defendants did not admit any guilt,” said Mitchell Garabedian, a Boston-based lawyer who has built a reputation for representing victims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests and employees. But “the settlement speaks for itself,” he said.
The settlement calls for the creation of a $60 million fund to help the 133 victims and a $1.2 million fund to administer the payments, Garabedian said. It comes after seven months of mediation.
“All of these 133 sexual abuse victims will be members of the proposed settlement class,” Garabedian said. “Other victims of sexual abuse perpetrated by Douglas Perlitz, Father Paul E. Carrier or anyone else affiliated with (Perlitz’s) Project Pierre-Toussaint will have the opportunity to become members of the settlement class.”
Fairfield University raised funds and sent university student volunteers to work at the Haitian school. The university and the affiliated groups are accused of being negligent in their supervision of Perlitz and Carrier.
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Carrier spent 20 years as an instructor, chaplain and director of campus ministry at Fairfield University.
Garabedian, who served as co-lead counsel with Paul J. Hanly Jr., said he does not anticipate any other victims coming forward.
“We have been scouring the area for nine years,” Garabedian said. “We think we found all the victims ... If more come forward, their claims will be assessed.”
But before any settlement is approved and paid out, Senior U.S. District Judge Robert Chatigny must first grant Garabedian’s request to turn the 51 separate lawsuits into one class action matter.
Chatigny is expected to conduct a hearing on that request Feb. 11 in his Hartford courtroom. Once that happens, the process of certifying the 133 victims as a class will begin, and it could take a year before payouts are made.
“A significant proportion of the funds to be used in the University’s contribution to the settlement will come through a University Insurance carrier,” Fairfield University said in a statement regarding Friday’s action.
The university was among four affiliated religious and charitable organizations and three individuals that agreed to the payout terms.
The proposal will settle claims against Perlitz, Fairfield University and the Rev. Paul E. Carrier; the Society of Jesus of New England; and the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta, which provided a start-up grant and additional monies to Project Pierre-Toussaint, which included a residential school, Garabedian said.
It also settles claims against the defunct Haiti Fund Inc., which served as Project Pierre Toussaint's nonprofit fundraising arm, and Hope Carter, a New Canaan philanthropist and former member of the Haiti Fund's board of directors, Garabedian added.
“The university has been planning for this litigation, and any difference has been allocated for and will not have material impact on the financial integrity of the university or its day-to-day operations in serving our students, faculty and the broader Fairfield Community,” the school said in a prepared statement. “We will continue to make investments to enhance our facilities and our faculty to ensure that we provide a world-class education to our students.”
The deal marks the second time in almost six years that Garabedian has reached a settlement with victims from the Project Pierre-Toussaint scandal in Cap-Haitien, Haiti’s second largest city.
In 2013, Garabedian settled 23 similar suits for $12 million which resulted in payments of $500,000 to 24 victims.
Lawyers said that money also came primarily from insurance policies held by many of the same defendants.
The payouts enabled the victims to receive occupational, physical and psychological treatment. Shortly after that settlement, Garabedian began filing another 51 suits involving these 133 victims.
“Many of these clients are severely sick,” he said. He described them as “starving and very thin, having lumps on their skin and suffering from various diseases.”
Garabedian said all the victims in the latest settlement claim they were abused by Perlitz, with one of those also alleging to have been sexually abused by Carrier, long described as Perlitz’s mentor.
The allegation made by Garabedian against Carrier marks the first time the charismatic Jesuit priest has been accused of abusing one of the boys. Carrier often visited Perlitz in Haiti, numerous victims told Hearst Connecticut Media during the newspaper group’s investigation in Haiti of Project Pierre-Toussaint. None of those said they were abused by Carrier.
Despite the claim, Carrier was never charged with any crime.
Nevertheless, the Society of Jesus transferred Carrier from Fairfield University in 2008 as federal investigators, Haiti’s National Police and the United Nations began digging into claims of misconduct exposed a year earlier by Cyrus Siebert, a radio journalist in Haiti.
The order suspended Carrier from performing any religious duties shortly after Perlitz’s sentencing in December 2010.
Carrier now resides at the Campion Jesuit community in Weston, Mass., Garabedian said.
Perlitz was sentenced to 19 years and seven months in federal prison.
Now 48 and one of 1,924 inmates incarcerated in the federal correction institution in Seagoville, Texas, Perlitz is awaiting release in 2026.
He was left penniless when the federal government seized his bank and retirement accounts totaling about $49,000. That money was distributed to the 16 victims identified in the federal criminal case against him.
During his sentencing, Perlitz said he was involved in a “dark and abusive” relationship both “physical and spiritual” that began with a Fairfield University priest shortly after he arrived as a freshman on campus in 1988.
Ira Grudberg, Perlitz’s defense lawyer, said that relationship “continued for many years including all of his (Perlitz’s) work in Haiti.”
The priest was never identified.
“What we learned in these cases is that impoverished Haitian children were sexually abused and then left in pain, agony and without hope,” Garabedian said.