BY EVAN DENNY
Fairfield University is one of several affiliated groups that have agreed to a $61 million lawsuit regarding alleged sexual abuse at a school for homeless boys in Haiti. More than 130 people who say they were sexually abused as children at the now-defunct charity school in Haiti would receive the money.
The class-action lawsuit filed in federal court in Hartford involved poor and often homeless boys who attended the Project Pierre Toussaint School in Cap-Haitien over a period of more than a decade beginning in the late 1990s. A founder of the school, Fairfield University graduate Douglas Perlitz, is serving a federal prison sentence of 19 years and 7 months for sexually abusing boys there.
The judge who sentenced Perlitz called him a serial rapist and molester.
“What we learned in these cases is that impoverished Haitian children were sexually abused and then left in pain, agony and without hope,” said Mitchell Garabedian, a Boston lawyer representing the 130 plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit.
The settlement must be approved by a federal judge.
Perlitz was arrested in 2009 and later convicted. Prosecutors said he abused at least 16 children, gave them money, food, clothing and electronics and threatened to take everything away and expel them from the program if they told anyone.
Fairfield University officials said in a statement that it played no role in running the Haitian school. University officials were not aware of the sexual abuse before it was publicly reported, the statement said.
They said the lawsuit is being settled to support the victims and spare them the potential pain of having to go through a trial — the same reasons the university and the other defendants agreed to a $12 million settlement in 2013 with two dozen other young men who said they were sexually abused as minors by Perlitz.
“Everyone in our community has been saddened by these events,” said Fairfield University President Mark Nemec and the college’s Board of Trustees chairman, Frank Carroll III, in a statement to the university community. “Our prayers are with all those whose trust has been betrayed, and we hope that these proceedings and the settlement reached will give some measure of relief to the victims.”
The USA Northeast Province of the Society of Jesus, a religious order of the Catholic Church into which the former Society of Jesus of New England has merged, issued similar comments about the settlement Friday.
“All of these 133 sexual abuse victims will be members of the proposed settlement class,” Garabedian said. “Other victims of sexual abuse perpetrated by Douglas Perlitz, Father Paul E. Carrier or anyone else affiliated with (Perlitz’s) Project Pierre-Toussaint will have the opportunity to become members of the settlement class.”
Garabedian said all the victims in the latest settlement claim they were abused by Perlitz, with one of those also alleging to have been sexually abused by Carrier, long described as Perlitz’s mentor, according to the Connecticut Post.
Despite this claim, Carrier was never charged with any crime. Carrier spent 20 years as an instructor, chaplain and director of campus ministry at Fairfield University.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.