A Colorado man charged with sexually abusing boys at a school he founded for street children in Haiti pleaded not guilty Tuesday to new charges that raise the number of alleged victims to 18.
Authorities accuse Douglas Perlitz of enticing children at the Project Pierre Toussaint school in Cap-Haitien into sex acts by promising them food, shelter, cash, cell phones, electronics and shoes. They say he also withheld benefits and threatened to expel the boys if they refused his wishes.
Perlitz pleaded not guilty in federal court in New Haven to nine counts of traveling outside the United States with the intent to engage in sexual conduct with minors and 10 counts of engaging in sexual conduct in foreign places with minors.
The 39-year-old Perlitz, of Eagle, Colo., was charged last year with sexually abusing nine boys. Prosecutors doubled the number of alleged victims with a new indictment announced last week.
Perlitz created a hierarchy among the boys by giving money, clothing and other items to some while others were denied basic items such as bed sheets, prosecutors say. Boys who engaged in sex acts with Perlitz understood they would face little or no punishment if they behaved abusively to other children, while those who refused sex acts with Perlitz knew they could be expelled and forced to return to a life on the street, authorities said.
Staff afraid to come forward
According to the indictment, school volunteers and staff members were afraid to come forward with the allegations because Perlitz controlled the school's operations and "utilized the fear of unemployment and the difficult economic situation in Haiti."
Perlitz faces up to 30 years in prison on each charge if convicted.
The school initially served mostly street children as young as 6 and later grew to include a residential program for high schoolers.
Judge Janet Bond Arterton asked during the hearing if the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti would affect the case. Perlitz' attorney, William Dow III, said the alleged abuse took place in the northern part of the country, while most of the devastation from the earthquake took place to the south.
Vast logistical problems
Prosecutors said they'll need permission from the American and Haitian governments to transport the alleged victims to testify at the trial. While prosecutors said that is an extensive process, Dow said it would be even tougher for him to arrange for defense witnesses to testify.
"The logistical problems presented by this case are absolutely staggering and leaves the defendant at a significant disadvantage," Dow said outside of court.
The trial is scheduled to start in May, but Arterton acknowledged it may be delayed.
Prosecutors said the investigation was continuing, but they don't expect to file any more sexual abuse allegations against Perlitz.
Dow filed a motion to dismiss the indictment last month, challenging the prosecution in Connecticut based on charges of foreign misconduct. He also said the indictment lacks legally required details about when the alleged abuse occurred and how it is linked to foreign trips.
Prosecutors said they would respond in court later this month.