Just one week ago an internet search for Doug Perlitz ’92 would reveal a man who had dedicated his entire life to living out Jesuit ideals, providing aid and security to homeless children in Haiti, inspired by his Fairfield education.
But on Friday morning, that all changed, when the 2002 commencement speaker was indicted on federal charges alleging he sexually abused at least nine boys while working in Haiti.
The views on Perlitz have clearly changed, revealed by the almost 300 articles and blogs written about his arrest and the opinions of students around campus.
“It’s an atrocity, definitely. I think there are bad people wherever you go, but it’s still unfortunate that he went here — I don’t want to be portrayed in that light, or have the University be portrayed in that light. I don’t understand how people do things like that,” said Nicole Fogliano ’12.
“It is astonishing to hear that an alum could have been involved in such a horrible crime,” Gabriella Markides ’13 said.
“Furthermore it is more astonishing to hear that if convicted, how did he get away with it for so long?”
The indictment charges Perlitz with seven counts of traveling outside the United States for the purpose of engaging in sex with minors and three counts of engaging in sexual conduct in foreign places with minors. Each of the charges carries a maximum 30-year prison term and $250,000 fine.
The indictment alleges that from 2002 to 2008, $2 million was transferred from the Haiti Fund, an account established to control the millions of dollars raised for Perlitz’s work with the boys, which is a registered Connecticut charity, to a separate account in Haiti that Perlitz had control over. Many of those donations came from persons involved in Fairfield, including former director of campus ministry, Fr. Paul Carrier.
But University spokesperson Rama Sudhakar said that the organization was not directly tied to the Haiti Fund.
“Fairfield University did not have any role in their management or board oversight,” she said, but many University members contributed funds and time independently.
According to the indictment, Perlitz used his control over project finances to silence questions about his behavior: “In an effort to control the American volunteers from discovering or questioning his abuse of minors, Perlitz maintained exclusive control over operations, including funding, making it difficult for volunteers, staff members, or other to question his actions,” the indictment states.
Perlitz first visited Haiti in 1992 on a campus ministry mission volunteer trip during his junior year at Fairfield. He claimed it was that visit that inspired him to work there.
Perlitz earned a master’s degree in theology at Boston College and then returned to Haiti in 1997 to work as a pastoral minister at Sacre Coeur hospital in Milot, Haiti.
In 1997, Perlitz obtained a grant from the Order of Malta, a religious organization, used to establish Project Pierre Toussaint in Haiti. The project’s goals included providing basic classroom education, recreation, and meals as well as running water for baths for the boys.
Project Pierre Toussaint, which Perlitz established over eleven years ago, closed this summer.
With Perlitz on his way back to Connecticut to face trial as early as this week, the campus will continue to buzz about his indictment.
“First of all, I don’t understand how anyone can sexually abuse children under the pretense of religion or charity,” Briana Cronk ’12 said. “Second, I think its unfortunate that this could possibly affect the reputation of Fairfield University and overshadow a lot of good that the University has done.”
Meanwhile, the University will continue to monitor the situation.
“The University will continue to respond to this unfolding situation,” Sudhakar said. “In the context of the economic and political turmoil in the world today, the need for education, particularly Jesuit education, is greater now than ever.
The investigation is still ongoing and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency invites anyone with knowledge to call 203-773-2029.