More lawsuits filed over sex abuse of Haitian boys

January 5, 2012 - 3:30 PM

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — Seventeen Haitian men are suing Fairfield University in Connecticut, the Society of Jesus and others alleging they failed to protect them from a man who sexually abused them when they were poor children or young adults attending a school he founded in Haiti.

The lawsuits bring to 21 the number of alleged victims suing Douglas Perlitz and the others. Perlitz was sentenced in 2010 to nearly 20 years in prison for sexually abusing children at Project Pierre Toussaint.

The victims ranged from ages 9 to 21 at the time of the abuse and are now 18 to 29.

The lawsuits seek $20 million for each victim. They contend Perlitz's supervisors disregarded warning signs of inappropriate behavior with boys.

The Rev. Paul Carrier, a Jesuit priest who was Fairfield University's chaplain, saw Perlitz show a student a pornographic video and saw boys in his bedroom, according to the lawsuits. A school board member, Hope Carter, flew to Haiti in 2008 and removed Perlitz's computer, according to the lawsuits.

"It appears that Carter removed the computer or computers to prevent investigators, including, ultimately, federal law enforcement personnel, from discovering pornographic material, which may have included pornography relating to young boys, stored on the computer or computers," the lawsuit states.

Carter delivered the computer to Perlitz in the United States, according to the lawsuit. Authorities later seized the computer, which Perlitz had used to access websites focusing on sexual material relating to boys.

Federal authorities say an investigation is continuing.

The lawsuits say none of the defendants took any steps to protect the children in Perlitz's care.

"On the contrary, they facilitated Perlitz's crimes by continuing to provide him money and facilities to run PPT in the face of evidence that Perlitz was maintaining inappropriate relationships with boys in his care," the lawsuit states.

The Society of Jesus called the crimes "deeply disturbing" but said the school wasn't a mission of the society, also known as the Jesuits. Telephone messages were left Thursday for the other defendants.

The defendants have sought dismissals of the first lawsuits filed last year.

Fairfield University said it did not retain or employ Perlitz and that Carrier was a volunteer officer of the Haitian school, which is separate from the university. Carrier also called himself a volunteer and argued he's immune from liability and that there was no evidence he knew of the abuse. Carter's attorney said there was no allegation that Carter knew of any sexual misconduct by Perlitz or that Carter "consciously assisted" Perlitz's abuse.

The lawsuits argue that Fairfield University, which is operated by the Jesuits, raised more than $600,000 for the school and hired Perlitz in connection with the Haitian school and was negligent in its duty to supervise him. The suits say the Society of Jesus had the same responsibilities with Carrier, who served as chairman of a fund that ran the school.

Those who were abused by Perlitz told school staff, according to the lawsuit. Carrier and Carter failed to speak to the victims in a setting where they could feel safe about reporting what had happened, the suits say.

The school conducted an investigation after learning of the abuse claims in 2007 and 2008, but that probe was designed to discredit the claims and exonerate Perlitz, according to the lawsuits. Carrier and Carter prevented other school board members from questioning independent witnesses, the lawsuit alleges.

Mitchell Garabedian, an attorney for the victims, said the abuse shows rules put into place by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2002 were either ignored or ineffective.