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 private residence in a mountainside community above Port-au-Prince and the nearby Wings of Hope home, which houses about 30 physically and mentally disabled children and young adults. On its website, the facility calls itself a "critical part" of Geilenfeld's charitable organization.
Geilenfeld 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, when a Haitian judge 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 found Maine activist Paul Kendrick defamed Geilenfeld and North Carolina-based Hearts with Haiti by leading an email blitz accusing Geilenfeld of sexually abusing Haitian children. In late July, the jury ordered Kendrick to pay $14.5 million in damages. He has requested a new trial.
During the trial 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 Geilenfeld had molested them as youngsters, Geilenfeld said his efforts in Haiti were inspired by Mother Teresa's missionary work. 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.