Friday, September 25, 2009

Here Come The Lawyers To Fairfield University

Fairfield University plans to hire a lawyer to conduct an internal review of the extent of the school's support for a Haitian charity founded by an alumnus accused of molesting boys he was supposed to be helping.

In a letter sent to the university community Wednesday, President Jeffrey von Arx said the review will include a probe into weekly collections for the charity at university Masses and other gifts to the project, and how they were deposited and disbursed.

In addition, the university will offer an opportunity following the Sunday Mass on campus for the community to express their feelings and concerns about the scandal. In the near future, university officials will organize a campus forum to discuss its core principles related to helping and serving the poor.

The statement by von Arx was issued a week after a federal grand jury in Bridgeport indicted Douglas Perlitz, 39, a celebrated 1992 graduate of the Jesuit university, on charges he sexually abused at least nine of the boys at the charity he founded, Project Pierre Toussaint in Cap-Haitien, Haiti. In recognition of the program, Perlitz was chosen as the main speaker for the university's 2002 commencement and awarded an honorary degree.

Perlitz was arrested last week by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents at a home in Eagle, Colo., and is expected to be returned to the state next week.

"If the allegations against Doug Perlitz are true -- of course, he should be presumed innocent until proven guilty -- then it will be a tragic outcome for the affected group of children in Haiti ... as well as members of the university community who donated their time and support to this cause with the firm belief that it was for a good cause," von Arx says in his letter.

Project Pierre Toussaint was founded to provide schooling, recreation, meals and baths to boys, some as young as 6 years old, living on the streets of the impoverished nation. Although Project Pierre Toussaint was an independent, nonprofit organization, it had the support of individuals from Fairfield University.

It was also championed by a former university chaplain, the Rev. Paul Carrier. Funds were raised through campus ministry to help support the Haitian school. University students joined missions to the school organized by Carrier.

Perlitz, Carrier and others organized an independent charitable organization known as the Haitian Fund Inc., which was supposed to provide financing for the charity. A lawyer for the fund, however, said last week the money appears to have evaporated.

According to von Arx, the university did not have a role in the management or board oversight for either the Haitian Fund or Project Pierre Toussaint. When Carrier left the university abruptly in 2006, participation in the project by the university community lessened steadily, said von Arx.

The university president, however, said money collected for the charity at campus Masses and via gifts are subject to the university's standard financial controls and procedures.

"We do not expect to find any irregularities," he wrote. University officials could not say how much had been raised over the years in support of the Haitian school.

Rama Sudhakar, vice president of marketing and communications at Fairfield, could not say how much the university had raised on behalf of the school or the foundation that supported it. She also said the university does not know Carrier's whereabouts.

When news of the indictment broke, Sudhakar said the university was surprised and has had no role in the Haitian school, although staff members, including Carrier, visited the school often, sometimes accompanied by university students.

On Thursday, Sudhakar reiterated that the Touissant school and Haiti Fund are independent from Fairfield University.

About a year ago, the university learned the project's board of directors had removed Perlitz as director and Carrier as chairman of the board. It was at the time that accusations about Perlitz sexually abusing boys began to surface.

The indictment handed down last week states that Perlitz befriended boys he met on the street and recruited them to attend his program. Once under his care, he is accused of using food, shelter, money and gifts -- including cell phones, portable music players, clothes and other inducements -- to convince disadvantaged children to engage in sexual acts. If they refused, he withheld the enticements, the indictment charges.

Sudhakar said the Mass on Sunday and the discussion afterward would be closed to the media.

"It's a time for people impacted by this to share their feelings and emotions and concerns. Imagine if you support something over the years, feel vested in it and now feel disappointed in what has happened," she said.

Link (here)

Photo is of Fr. Jeffrey von Arx, S.J.

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