A U.S. man who founded an orphanage in Haiti once supported by Triangle residents was charged Monday with traveling from Florida to the Caribbean country to have sex with underage children after spending a decade dodging accusations that he abused minors in his care.
Michael Karl Geilenfeld, 71, who was arrested Saturday in Denver, had even won a multimillion-dollar defamation lawsuit in a Maine federal court against an advocate who accused him of sexually abusing boys at his orphanage in Haiti. Geilenfeld had also been arrested in Haiti on the very same allegations that landed him in a Port-au-Prince jail amid the defamation battle — only to have the case dismissed by a judge when some of his alleged victims were a no-show in court.
Geilenfeld is expected to have a detention hearing in federal court in Denver on Thursday and will later be flown to Miami. A federal grand jury indicted him on a charge of traveling to Haiti from Miami International Airport “for the purpose of engaging in any illicit sexual conduct with another person under 18.”
Geilenfeld is accused of traveling to the country between November 2006 and December 2010, when he was operating the St. Joseph’s Home for Boys in Port-au-Prince. The alleged sex-tourism offense, investigated by Homeland Security Investigations and the FBI, carries a possible sentence of up to 30 years in prison.
Ties to Raleigh
Geilenfeld founded the St. Joseph’s Home for Boys in 1985 and received financial support from Hearts With Haiti, a non-profit based in Raleigh. Hearts for Haiti’s leaders and staff consistently defended Geilenfeld over the years and joined him in two defamation lawsuits, saying the accusations against him had cost the organization millions in donations.
Hearts With Haiti continues to support the St. Joseph Family, an organization that provides education and housing to “children and adults with disabilities and economically disadvantaged children” in Jacmel, Haiti. The original St. Joseph’s Home for Boys closed in 2014, according to Emily Everett, executive director of Hearts With Haiti.
“To our knowledge, Mr. Geilenfeld has not been involved with the St. Joseph Family ministries in Haiti since 2014,” Everett wrote in an email to The News & Observer.
“Hearts with Haiti severed all ties with Mr. Geilenfeld years ago,” she continued. “Mr. Geilenfeld was never an employee, volunteer nor member of the Hearts with Haiti Board of Directors. Hearts with Haiti has no knowledge regarding the guilt or innocence of Michael Geilenfeld concerning these federal charges.”
Everett declined to comment further.
‘Terrible, terrible harm done’
Paul Kendrick, a Maine resident who had accused Geilenfeld of being a serial pedophile and led a campaign demanding justice for his Haitian victims, told the Miami Herald on Monday that he was on the verge of tears. Kendrick was twice sued by Geilenfeld for defamation.
“I am very grateful that the U.S. government pursued the investigation of this guy and that the grand jury heard the evidence, heard the testimony and has indicted him,” Kendrick, 74, said. “I, on a daily basis, think about the terrible, terrible harm done to these poor, mostly street kids in Haiti by Geilenfeld. Just terrible abuse, the terrible guilt and shame they live with on a daily basis. Their own struggles to find safe shelter and food.”
Active in his local Catholic diocese, Kendrick, a graduate of Fairfield University, a private Jesuit school in Connecticut, first visited Haiti in 2003 where he joined a medical group on a visit to Cap-Haïtien, the country’s second largest city. There, he met Douglas Perlitz, a Colorado native and fellow graduate of Fairfield. Years later, Perlitz was convicted in a New Haven, Conn., federal court of sexually abusing Haitian minors at his Project Pierre Toussaint School for homeless children, which he founded for street children.
Perlitz’s conviction led to a missionary contacting a local Haitian journalist, Cyrus Seibert, about Geilenfeld and allegations that he too was engaged in similar behavior. After Seibert broke the story, Kendrick got in touch with him after also being contacted about the Iowa native. Together, the two led a years-long email and blog campaign on SurvivorsVoices demanding Geilenfeld’s arrest and justice for the survivors of his abuse.
“We started making noise, asking questions, wanting to be assured kids were safe there; just leaned on it, leaned on it hard to the point the nonprofit, Hearts with Haiti, and Geilenfeld were co-plaintiffs in a lawsuit saying, ‘It never happened; he’s never abused a child, never ever,’ ” Kendrick said. “They stood by this guy and called anyone names who dared to believe the victims, the dozens of young people coming forward, a terrible thing.”
“This arrest sends a strong signal to all child abusers that despite their schemes to discourage victims, witnesses and children’s rights activists, as Martin Luther King said, ‘the curve of history tends towards justice,’ ” Seibert said.
Kendrick’s accusations against Geilenfeld began in 2011, but it was three years before Haitian police arrested Geilenfeld in 2014 in Port-au-Prince. After Geilenfeld spent a year in jail on suspicion of charges of indecent assault and criminal conspiracy, his case was dismissed by a judge after five of his alleged victims didn’t appear at a key hearing. The victims filed an appeal. Though it was granted, the case has yet to be retried.
At the time of his Haiti arrest, Geilenfeld had an ongoing defamation lawsuit in federal court in Maine against Kendrick. Geilenfeld and Hearts with Haiti accused Kendrick of costing the orphanage over $1.5 million in donations. A federal jury sided with Geilenfeld. He was awarded $7 million and the North Carolina-based charity was awarded $7.5 million. “I had U.S. marshals putting liens on my property,” Kendrick recalled. “It was just a hard time. But do I regret any of it on behalf of these poor kids? No, no, no. This guy is a monster.”
It was eventually decided on appeal that Geilenfeld wasn’t living in the U.S. when he filed the complaint, and therefore lacked jurisdiction to sue in federal court. After the verdict was thrown out, Geilenfeld refiled in Maine state court. Kendrick’s insurance company in the fall of 2019 settled the six-year-old defamation case, and agreed to pay Hearts with Haiti $3 million but nothing to Geilenfeld.
Kendrick believes the reason for the revived interest in Geilenfeld, whose whereabouts became unknown after the Haitian government shut down his orphanage, is due to some of the victims coming forward during his legal dispute. Some of them, he said, were young, and that caught the attention of Homeland Security investigators, who traveled to the Dominican Republic to interview alleged victims.
U.S. authorities now believe that there are potentially many more victims of Geilenfeld’s during the 30 years he spent in Haiti, and they are asking them to step forward.
Kendrick said he is anxious to get Geilenfeld “before a jury and have those young people testify to what he did to them.” He hopes that the victims will receive financial reparations .
“The people from the U.S. nonprofit organizations who supported Geilenfeld all of these years and others in Haiti who stayed silent, looked the other way, knew what was going on and did nothing, should be ashamed of themselves for bringing such harm to these children and young people,” Kendrick said. “Let’s get him in jail.”
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