Haiti officials look into new allegations against US man

AP News
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Posted: Oct 31, 2015 6:43 PM
Haiti officials look into new allegations against US man

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Haitian investigators are looking into new allegations of child sex abuse against a U.S. man who founded an orphanage for boys in Haiti's capital decades ago.

Police with an arrest warrant searched unsuccessfully Friday for Michael Geilenfeld at a modest private residence in a mountainside community above Port-au-Prince and the nearby Wings of Hope home for about 30 physically and mentally disabled children and young adults. On its website, the facility says it is a "critical part" of Geilenfeld's charitable organization.

The American is already the subject of another criminal case in Haiti that accused him of sexually abusing boys in his care.  He spent 237 days in detention before being released in April by a Haitian judge who dismissed the charges in a brief trial that was not attended by the accusers, now adults. But the justice minister granted a re-examination of the case and it is now in court again on appeal.

Geilenfeld had also filed a separate civil case in the U.S. in which a jury in late July ordered a Maine activist to pay $14.5 million in damages to him and North Carolina-based Hearts with Haiti after finding he defamed them by leading an email blitz accusing the American man of sexually abusing Haitian children. The activist, Paul Kendrick, has requested a new trial.

In the trial of his U.S. civil case in Maine, Geilenfeld testified that he believed the accusations of sexual abuse lingered against him in impoverished Haiti because he was a gay man in what he described as a homophobic country.

Geilenfeld, an Iowa native and former Catholic brother, founded the St. Joseph Home for Boys in Haiti's capital in the 1980s. At the defamation court case in Maine, which saw seven Haitian men testify they were molested as youngsters by the U.S. man, Geilenfeld said he was inspired by Mother Teresa's missionary work to do good works in Haiti. He has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

During the Friday search at the Wings of Hope facility in Fermathe, a government official who accompanied police showed reporters an arrest warrant for Geilenfeld signed Thursday by General Prosecutor Jean Abner Emile. Geilenfeld returned to Haiti after the U.S. jury in the civil case returned its verdict in late July.

Haitian authorities questioned staff members about Geilenfeld's whereabouts. Communications director Renee Dietrich told them she had spoken to him several days ago but didn't know where he was. She also showed them unanswered calls she made to him on her cellphone.

Dietrich declined to speak to Associated Press journalists who witnessed the Friday police searches, referring all queries to Geilenfeld's U.S. lawyer, Peter DeTroy. He did not respond to an email seeking comment and has previously said he has no involvement with legal matters in Haiti.

Alain Lemithe, Geilenfeld's Haitian lawyer, said he was confident his client would prevail in Haiti's appeals court in the coming weeks and said the timing of new allegations appeared to be "very suspicious."

Haitian investigators were accompanied Friday by Valerie Dirksen, a real estate agent from the Atlanta metropolitan area who asserts Geilenfeld is a serial abuser of children. She sponsors two young Haitian men who grew up in Geilenfeld's care and she insists there are many alleged victims who passed through the orphanage.

According to Dirksen, the new arrest warrant for Geilenfeld was issued after a magistrate judge visited the St. Joseph Home for Boys and found three youngsters residing there with him, a violation of an earlier mandate by Haiti's child welfare authority.

"I will stay here in Haiti until he is arrested," she said outside the Wings of Hope home.

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David McFadden on Twitter: : http://twitter.com/dmcfadd

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This story has been corrected to show Dirksen's first name is spelled Valerie.