A federal lawsuit seeking $20 million in damages was filed Monday against Fairfield University, the Society of Jesus and a Colorado man sentenced to nearly 20 years in prison for sexually abusing children at a school he founded in Haiti.
The lawsuit was filed by one of Douglas Perlitz's accusers. It maintains that Fairfield University, the Jesuit order and other defendants were negligent in hiring and supervising Perlitz in the work he did in Haiti. And it accuses other defendants, some of them not named, of aiding Perlitz's efforts to cover up the abuse.
Alice Poltorick, a spokeswoman for the Society of Jesus, New England, called Perlitz' actions "deeply disturbing" and said the order would "work to address this claim diligently and with great sensitivity towards any individual who was harmed by Mr. Perlitz."
Officials at Fairfield University, which put its employees on the fundraising arm of the Haitian school, declined to comment, saying they hadn't yet seen the lawsuit. A message left for an attorney for Perlitz wasn't immediately returned.
Mitchell Garabedian, an attorney for the accuser, said he represents 20 more children who will file complaints in the near future. He said Perlitz's supervisors, including a Jesuit priest who was Fairfield University's chaplain, were in Haiti and knew or should have known about the abuse. Poltorick said that priest has been restricted from any ministry pending the order's investigation into the matter.
Garabedian declined to comment on details beyond the lawsuit.
Perlitz was sentenced in December for sexually abusing children for more than a decade at the school. Some of his victims faced him in the courtroom and testified that he threatened to put them back on the streets if they did not submit to his advances.
Perlitz, 40, apologized to his victims while speaking in Creole 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.
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. Prosecutors said Perlitz gave the children money, food, clothing and electronics and threatened to take everything away and expel them from the program if they told anyone.
A judge said she believed there were at least 16 victims, based on testimony that authorities recorded on video by others who attended the school.
Now a resident of Eagle, Colo., Perlitz founded the Haiti school in 1997 when he lived in Fairfield County, Conn. Authorities said he began abusing the children, some as young as 11, in 1998 before the school was built. The abuse scandal led to the collapse of the school and its fundraising arm, the Haiti Fund, forcing the children back into homelessness on the streets, prosecutors said.