By Loan Le, Editor-in-Chief, and Luigi DiMeglio, Managing Editor
A $12 million settlement has been reached in the Haiti sexual abuse cases that concerned Fairfield University and several charities.
Twenty-four of the victims sexually abused by Douglas Perlitz ‘92 each sought more than $20 million from charities and people whom they accused had failed to properly supervise Perlitz while he operated Project Pierre Toussaint (PPT), a school for street children in Haiti.
The defendants included Fairfield University; Rev. Paul Carrier, who was employed as a Fairfield chaplain and allegedly had a relationship with Perlitz as a freshman; Society of Jesus New England; Hope Carter, a director for the Haiti Fund and allegedly interfered with investigations of Perlitz’s actions in Haiti; and the Order of Malta, who had given Perlitz the money to start PPT.
A Fairfield University statement confirms that the civil lawsuits are being dismissed. Lawyers for the victims have come to an agreement with Fairfield and others that the settlement money will be paid over a number of years for the damage ensued from Perlitz’s crimes.
This settlement ends a three-month negotiation period between the lawyers of the plaintiffs and the defendants.
After news broke about the settlement on Saturday, June 29, Mitchell Garabedian, the plaintiffs’ lawyer who specializes in defending child abuse victims in court cases, told the Connecticut Post that he would develop a system to distribute the money to his clients.
Garabedian announced on Monday, July 1, that $500,000 would be given to each victim.
“This case was about accountability,” Garabedian said. “The fact they paid $12 million speaks volumes.”
President Jeffrey P. von Arx, S.J., told The Mirror that this settlement “is being covered jointly by the insurance companies of the parties involved.”
Regarding the settlement, Alice Poltorick, director of communications at the New England Province of the Society of Jesus, released a statement saying, “The settlement agreement does not constitute an admission of liability. Project Pierre Toussaint was not a mission of the Province. Nevertheless, a member of the Province served on its board and we worked to address these claims diligently and with great sensitivity.”
Poltorick told The Mirror the society hopes that “this money will help care for those who were harmed by Douglas Perlitz. We continue to pray for all those involved.”
Perlitz was sentenced to 19 years and seven months in federal prison on December 21, 2010. He had pled guilty to traveling with the intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct from 2001 to 2008.
PPT closed in 2009 due to lack of funding.
The plaintiffs in the case alleged that Fairfield and the other organizations that helped fund PPT could have prevented the abuse with proper oversight of the project.
Each of the defendants had filed a motion seeking to dismiss the claim.
Fairfield officials had insisted the case’s allegations were misguided, telling The Mirror in a 2012 interview, “As our lawyers wrote in their Motion to Dismiss the Complaint, the plaintiffs are trying to impose liability improperly on the University for failing to supervise the actions of people acting in their individual capacities on behalf of their own interests.”
On March 31, 2013, U.S. District Judge Robert N. Chatigny refused the defendants’ motion to dismiss the claim that Carrier, Carter, Fairfield University, the Society of Jesus and the Order of Malta failed to properly supervise Perlitz’s actions in Haiti.
But according to the Connecticut Post, the judge decided that Carrier and Carter “could not be sued for assisting Perlitz in violating a law that makes it illegal for a U.S. citizen to travel overseas to engage in sex with minors, as well assisting in the violation of customary international law because of the sexual abuse.
“Additionally, the judge found that none of the defendants could be sued for vicarious liability because none of them authorized Perlitz to engage in such conduct nor could they be sued for secondary liability,” read the Connecticut Post.
Long-time advocate for child abuse victims Paul Kendrick ‘72 told The Mirror on Saturday that he felt “very emotional” upon hearing the news about the settlement.
Kendrick had met and visited Perlitz in Haiti. He, along with Haitian journalist Cyrus Sibert who broke the news about the sexual abuse in 2007, have been following the case since it first began. For the past four years, Kendrick has wanted to meet with von Arx to discuss ways to help the victims, but he said they only met once.
He said he was frustrated and believed that Fairfield University failed to display the Jesuits values from which it was founded. “As a Jesuit alumnus, I’m not only ashamed, I’m disgusted by the actions of von Arx and the Jesuits New England and the Fairfield University community over the last four years.”
Asked if he would continue contacting Fr. von Arx, Kendrick said, “There’s nothing to say.”’
Kendrick said the amount settled in this case may seem high, “but nothing can repay the devastation and harm and injury that Perlitz did to these kids.”
Kendrick also believes that this settlement should be a lesson for nonprofit organizations. “Nonprofits in Haiti in the third world better take note of who is running their operation.”
The plaintiffs set an example when they chose to pursue a settlement case, according to Kendrick.
“What a moment it is for them – that they came forward in the first place … They wanted to protect other children,” Kendrick said. “They’ve taken their own suffering and turned it into a notice to all nonprofits of Haiti.”