NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- A Colorado man was sentenced to nearly 20 years in prison Tuesday for sexually abusing children at a school he founded in Haiti, including some who faced him inside the courtroom and testified that he threatened to expel them if they did not submit to his advances.
Judge Janet Bond Arterton called Douglas Perlitz a serial rapist and molester as she imposed the sentence in New Haven federal court.
Perlitz, 40, apologized to his victims before the sentence was handed down. He said he knew his crimes were horrible but pleaded for leniency nevertheless, asking the judge to consider the good work he did in the impoverished Caribbean nation.
"They say a convicted sex offender has no future, but I would like to try to prove people wrong," he said. "At times I would rather die than carry this burden to be honest."
Perlitz admitted in August that he engaged in illicit sexual conduct with eight children who attended the Project Pierre Toussaint School for homeless children in Cap-Haitien.
Now a resident of Eagle, Colo., Perlitz founded the school in 1997 when he lived in Fairfield County, Conn. Authorities said he began abusing the children in 1998 before the school was built.
Six of his victims -- now young men -- were flown to Connecticut and detailed the abuse they suffered.
"He always told me, `Don't tell anybody about it. If you tell anybody about it, I will put you out on the street,"' one victim said through a Creole interpreter. He said Perlitz first abused him in 1998 and once sodomized him after plying him with rum.
Another victim said Perlitz started abusing him on his 14th birthday in 2004. He said he struggled with feelings of shame and thought about suicide, especially when he read the Bible.
"I am here today to tell the truth. Because of the truth I can find justice," he said. "He hurt us a lot."
Perlitz was arrested last year and pleaded guilty to travel with intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct, a crime that carries up to 30 years in prison.
Prosecutors had asked the judge for a prison sentence of nearly 20 years, saying Perlitz preyed on some of the world's most vulnerable: Haitian street children with little or no family support or education.
The judge said she handed down such a lengthy sentence partly because interviews conducted by prosecutors indicated that Perlitz abused at least 16 children.
Authorities said Perlitz enticed the impoverished children into sex acts by promising food, shelter, money, electronics and other items of value, and then threatened to withhold benefits and expel them if they spurned his advances.
"Perlitz's sexual abuse of minors, abuse which lasted for a decade or more, shows him to be nothing more than a wolf in sheep's clothing -- an American man who traveled to Haiti purporting to care for homeless children when in reality he preyed upon the desperation of these children so that he could sexually abuse them," prosecutors wrote in their sentencing request to the judge.
Perlitz's lawyers asked for a sentence of about eight years, saying that Perlitz also helped many children.
His attorneys wrote in their sentencing brief that the government's "one-dimensional portrait of him as a monster driven solely by illicit sexual desire runs counter to what experience tells us about the human condition: that behavior may rarely if ever be explained so simply, and that most of us, including defendants accused of serious crimes, may only be fairly sketched in shades of gray."
Perlitz said in a pre-sentencing statement that a factor in the crimes was his "dark and abusive relationship" with a priest he met while attending Fairfield University, according to prosecutors.
Perlitz's lawyer said that he had "confusion and shame about his sexuality, and struggles with his identity; an ongoing, complicated and exploitive relationship with an influential priest; and increasing isolation and pressure while in Haiti."