NEW HAVEN, Conn. – A federal judge on Wednesday dismissed charges against a man accused of sexually abusing boys at a school in Haiti, saying he can't be prosecuted in Connecticut but leaving the door open for prosecutors to refile the charges elsewhere.
U.S. District Judge Janet Bond Arterton in New Haven approved Douglas Perlitz's motion to dismiss the case, ruling that a prosecution in Connecticut violated both the Constitution and federal rules.
"The government's arguments conflate Perlitz's having prepared for criminal conduct in Connecticut, which may well be shown by the facts alleged, with his having engaged in essential criminal conduct in Connecticut," Arterton wrote.
Arterton said she was only ruling on the venue issue and that her dismissal did not prohibit prosecutors from charging Perlitz in another state. She noted that Perlitz flew to Haiti from airports in New York and Florida, but took no flights from Connecticut.
"I think it's very clear that she's suggesting that the case could be prosecuted in another federal district within the United States, so this is in no way an adjudication of the merits of the case," said Jeffrey Meyer, an associate law professor at Quinnipiac University and a former federal prosecutor. "It seems quite likely the case would be refiled in another district in the U.S."
Prosecutors, who opposed Perlitz's motion to dismiss, quickly filed a request asking for a stay of the ruling, saying they plan to seek a criminal complaint and arrest warrant against Perlitz in New York. They said a stay is necessary to prevent the release of Perlitz from prison, saying a judge earlier deemed him a danger to the community.
Prosecutors said a judge granted the request to stay the ruling until July 23.
Perlitz, a former Connecticut resident who now lives in Eagle, Colo., was accused of enticing children at the Project Pierre Toussaint school in Cap-Haitien into sex acts by promising them food, shelter and other items. Prosecutors, who cited 18 victims, say Perlitz also withheld benefits and threatened to expel the boys if they refused his wishes.
Perlitz was charged with nine counts of traveling outside the United States with the intent to engage in sexual conduct with minors and 10 counts of engaging in sexual conduct in foreign places with minors.
Prosecutors cited his actions in Connecticut, such as booking his travel in the state, paying with money raised by a Connecticut-based charity and transferring money from Connecticut to Haiti.
Perlitz had pleaded not guilty. He had faced up to 30 years in prison on each charge if convicted.
"We're extremely happy and gratified that the court accepted our argument and concluded that this case has no basis in Connecticut," said David Grudberg, Perlitz's attorney.
According to the indictment, school volunteers and staff members were afraid to come forward with the allegations because Perlitz controlled the school's operations and "utilized the fear of unemployment and the difficult economic situation in Haiti." The indictment alleged that Perlitz used his relationship with a religious leader and board members of a fund maintained by the school's fundraising arm to continue to conceal or try to hide his sexual conduct.
The school initially served mostly street children as young as 6 and later grew to include a residential program for high schoolers.
Associated Press Writer Dave Collins contributed to this report.