NEW HAVEN, Conn. – A Colorado man who founded a school for street children in Haiti acknowledged Wednesday that he sexually abused several, wrapping up a case in which prosecutors said he manipulated the boys with promises of food and shelter and threatened to expel them if they refused.
Douglas Perlitz, 40, pleaded guilty Wednesday in U.S. District Court in New Haven, Conn., to travel with intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct, a charge that carries up to 30 years in prison. As part of a plea deal, he admitted to engaging in illicit sexual conduct with eight children.
Perlitz is a former Connecticut resident who now lives in Eagle, Colo. He was charged last year with enticing boys at the Project Pierre Toussaint School in Cap-Haitien into sex acts. Prosecutors say Perlitz, 40, withheld benefits and threatened to expel the boys if they spurned him.
"This defendant preyed on impoverished and powerless street children in Haiti, enticing them with significant benefits such as food, shelter, clothing and education, only to exploit his position of trust and sexually abuse the boys under his care," said U.S. Attorney David Fein.
"I commend the extraordinary strength and courage of the minor victims in this case who came forward and spoke out about the abuse that they suffered in order to protect others from harm and so that justice would prevail," Fein said.
Perlitz's lawyer, William Dow III, said after the hearing that his client looked forward to presenting his side of the story at his sentencing.
Perlitz founded the school in 1997 when he lived in Connecticut, and authorities say the abuse went on for nearly a decade.
U.S. District Judge Janet Bond Arterton last month dismissed the charges on a technical issue, saying he couldn't be prosecuted in Connecticut because the crimes weren't committed there.
The judge noted that Perlitz flew to Haiti from airports in New York and Florida but took no flights from Connecticut. She did leave the door open for prosecutors to refile the charges elsewhere, and authorities did just that in New York City shortly after Arterton's ruling.
Perlitz, though, waived his right to a trial elsewhere and agreed to a plea deal. Dismissal of the refiled charges will be sought at his sentencing.
The original indictment said Perlitz received funding from a religious organization to found Project Pierre Toussaint. The program initially served mostly street children as young as 6 and expanded to include a residential program for high school-age children. Children were offered meals, sports, classroom instruction and access to running water for baths.
Volunteers and staff members were scared to come forward with the allegations, the indictment said, because Perlitz controlled the school's operations and "utilized the fear of unemployment and the difficult economic situation in Haiti."
Prosecutors said they plan to mention additional victims at the sentencing hearing Dec. 21. Federal guidelines call for a prison term of about eight years to 20 years, and he must register as a sex offender when he leaves prison. He remains detained on bail.
He wore a beige prison jumpsuit during the hearing and smiled at his lawyers when he entered the courtroom. Most of his comments repeated the wording in the charge against him.