Fairfield University alumnus Douglas Perlitz was sentenced to 19 years and seven months today by a New Haven federal judge for sexually abusing minors in Haiti. The 235 months Perlitz will serve in prison is the maximum time desired by the prosecution and will include 10 years of probation.
Perlitz, an honorary commencement speaker, had been facing anywhere from eight to nineteen years in prison after pleading guilty on August 18, 2010 for one count of traveling with the intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct to Haiti.
What started as a story of the embodiment of Jesuit ideals and Christian charity ended in catastrophe today with the sentencing of Perlitz. Perlitz, who founded Project Pierre Toussaint (PPT) in 1997, ran the project until the Haitian Fund board of directors removed him after allegations of sexual assault surfaced in 2008.
PPT took in children from the streets of Haiti and provided them with meals, sports activity, basic classroom instruction and access to running water for bathing. The Haiti Fund was formed to aid in fundraising and overseeing the operations of PPT in 1999. Initiated by Rev. Paul Carrier, S.J., Fairfield University employees and Fairfield and Westchester County residents, the Haiti Fund began actively fundraising in the community as well as on the Fairfield University campus.
Last week the defense released a document, which explained a “dark” relationship that Perlitz had with a Fairfield University priest. The relationship started at his time as a Fairfield student and continued past graduation. The defense explained this document was not to excuse Perlitz’s actions but to shed light on his abusive past.
The sentencing hearing involved the personal stories of six Haitian boys, who Perlitz had abused, and two former employees of PPT. The New Haven federal courthouse was filled with about 130 people including Perlitz’s victims, community members, Haitian reporter, lawyers and abuse advocates.
The boys gave detailed accounts of the abuse in Creole, the native language of Haiti, which was translated in the courtroom. They recounted personal accounts of forced oral sex and sodomy, at Perlitz’s personal residence called Bel Air, in which Doug Perlitz gave them cash and threatened to kick them out of PPT if they told anyone.
The closing arguments of both the defense and prosecution lead to dramatic crowd reactions.
The defense attorney, William F. Dow III, argued that Perlitz had contributed positively to society and was met with scoffs when he stated, “The worst you can say about him is that for twelve years he took people who were, as your honor said, lower than dirt and lifted them up.”
The lead prosecutor then attacked the defense’s claims of good deeds by Perlitz arguing: “There can be no leniency and no sympathy for a man who has hidden behind the community he exploited … The fact that he is a narcissist and the fact that he liked under age boys,” received forbidden applause from the back rows of the courtroom.
Prior to his sentencing Perlitz made personal remarks and apologized in Creole to the Haitian boys and members of the community. As he spoke, someone in the crowd cried out, “How many boys did you rape?” Perlitz paused and then continued with his pre-written apology asking for forgiveness, but saying that he understands if the boys do not accept his apologies.
United States District Judge Janet Bond Arterton ruled that the prosecution had met the requirements for an upward departure, which meant that Perlitz would be looking at 188 to 235 months in prison. Judge Arterton explained that the defense arguments that Perlitz had provided positively to society was akin to digging a well to provide water for people who need water, then poisoning the well and still expecting to be praised for digging the well.
She continued in saying that “the intentions are offset by the fact that he became a predator.” She then reminded Perlitz of a letter he wrote to a friend in which he had said, “Be careful what you promise a child cause you have to keep it,” as she then pronounced the full sentence of 19 years and seven months.
After he completes his prison sentence, he will face a 10-year period of supervised parole, register as a sex offender and be forbidden to be in areas largely populated by children under the age of 18 and have monitored computer usage.