PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — A judge in Haiti has dismissed the case against a U.S. citizen who was accused of abusing residents of an orphanage that he has run for three decades in the Haitian capital.
Michael Geilenfeld, who had been in custody since his Sept. 5 arrest, was released Wednesday after a brief trial before a judge in Port-au-Prince.
Five former residents of the St. Joseph’s Home for Boys had accused Geilenfeld of physical and sexual abuse. None of the alleged victims, all adults now, testified at the trial.
Defense lawyer Alain Lemithe said the accusations were vague and unsubstantiated.
“They had nothing against him,” Lemithe told The Associated Press on Thursday. “They had no proof whatsoever so he has been released.”
Manuel Jeanty, a lawyer for the victims, said neither he nor any of his clients attended the proceeding because they weren’t notified in advance that it would be taking place. He said he planned to file an appeal.
“The justice system is not working,” Jeanty said.
Geilenfeld, 63, founded the St. Joseph’s Home for Boys in 1985. His charity grew to encompass three homes, a guest house for missionaries and a dance troupe that toured the U.S. and Canada to promote the organization.
In February 2013, Geilenfeld and Hearts with Haiti, a North Carolina nonprofit group that raises money for the orphanage, filed a defamation suit against Paul Kendrick, an activist in Maine who had publicized allegations of child sexual and physical abuse at the facility. The suit called the charges “false and heinous” and said they had been investigated and determined to be false.
Geilenfeld said in a deposition filed in the civil case that an email and blog campaign by the activist had cost his organization more than $1.5 million in donations.
He denied ever engaging in a sexual act with anyone under age 18. “I have devoted my life to enriching the lives of children in Haiti, the United States and abroad,” he said in the deposition.
A trial in the defamation case was put on hold because of Geilenfeld’s arrest but is now expected to be scheduled in the coming months, said Peter DeTroy, a lawyer for the plaintiffs. “We look forward to our day in a Maine court,” he said.
Kendrick said he also welcomes a resumption of the civil case so alleged victims of abuse can testify.
“The case against me presents a great opportunity for these men to tell their stories in the safety of a U.S. courtroom and they’re looking forward to doing that,” he added.