NEW HAVEN, Conn. – Six young Haitian men detailed sexual abuse they suffered at the hands of an American man who ran a school in their impoverished Caribbean nation, testifying at a sentencing hearing Tuesday that he threatened to throw them out if they did not submit.
The victims were flown from Haiti to testify against 40-year-old Douglas Perlitz, who was to be sentenced Tuesday afternoon in New Haven federal court.
"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 an Creole interpreter. He said Perlitz first abused him in 1998 and once sodomized him after plying him with rum.
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.
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."
Character witnesses were expected to testify on Perlitz's behalf later in the day.
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 have 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.
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."