A former Connecticut resident has been indicted with sexually abusing nine boys at a school for poor children he founded in Haiti, allegedly threatening them with expulsion or withholding benefits if they did not comply with his demands.
U.S. Attorney Nora Dannehy announced Thursday that Douglas Perlitz, 39, founder of the Project Pierre Toussaint school in Cap-Haitien, was indicted by a federal grand jury on numerous counts. Perlitz founded the school and raised money for its operation when he lived in Connecticut.
"This defendant is alleged to have used his position of power to manipulate and sexually abuse vulnerable boys for nearly a decade," Dannehy said.
Perlitz was arrested at his home in Eagle, Colo., on Wednesday, a day after the grand jury in Bridgeport, Conn., indicted him. A U.S. magistrate ordered him detained pending a hearing Friday in federal court in Denver.
The indictment lists seven counts of traveling outside of the United States with the intent to engage in sexual conduct with minors and three counts of engaging in sexual conduct in foreign places with minors.
Perlitz's lawyer, federal Public Defender Matthew Golla, did not immediately return a phone message Thursday. There was no public phone listing for Perlitz.
Authorities say Perlitz, who lived in the Connecticut cities of Bridgeport, Stamford and Fairfield, enticed children into sex acts by promising food, shelter and items including cash, cell phones, electronics, shoes and clothing. Prosecutors say Perlitz would sometimes withhold benefits or threaten to expel the boys if they refused to have sexual relations.
The indictment said Perlitz received funding from a religious organization to found Project Pierre Toussaint in 1997. The program initially served mostly street children as young as 6 years old, and later expanded to include a residential program for high school-aged children. Children were offered meals, sports, classroom instruction and access to running water for baths.
The indictment alleges that minors were sleeping in Perlitz's bedroom in a two-story house known as "Bel Air." When others questioned Perlitz about it, he tried to hide the sexual abuse by saying it was common in Haiti for children and adults to sleep together, the indictment alleges.
Volunteers and staff members were scared to come forward with the allegations, the indictment says, because Perlitz controlled the school's operations and "utilized the fear of unemployment and the difficult economic situation in Haiti."
The arrest should be a warning to child sex predators who think they can get away with victimizing children outside the U.S., said John T. Morton, assistant secretary of the Department of Homeland Security for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Each count in the indictment carries up to 30 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The investigation continues and the U.S. embassy in Port-au-Prince has set up a hot line for people to call with information pertinent to it. Dannehy said federal immigration agents and State Department officials stationed in Haiti also worked on the case.
A federal law passed in 2003 aims to prosecute Americans who travel overseas — beyond the reach of U.S. law — to have sex with children.