PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — A U.S. citizen who founded a Haiti orphanage for boys returned to the Caribbean country Wednesday after a U.S. jury ordered an activist to pay $14.5 million in damages for falsely accusing him of sexually abusing children in his care.
A lawyer for Michael Geilenfeld said the orphanage founder feels “very happy and vindicated” by last week’s jury verdict in Maine and is looking forward to resuming his work in the impoverished nation.
Attorney Peter DeTroy said he instructed Geilenfeld and other leaders of the orphanage in Haiti’s capital to make no public statements until after any appeals have been resolved.
“When the dust finally clears, I suspect my clients may be more comfortable speaking,” he said in an email.
Geilenfeld, a 63-year-old Iowa native and former Roman Catholic brother, founded the St. Joseph Home for Boys in the 1980s. He and Hearts With Haiti, a North Carolina charity that raises money for the home, filed a defamation suit against Maine activist Paul Kendrick, who led an email and blog campaign publicizing past allegations of sexual abuse that they said were false. The U.S. jury returned the verdict last week.
David Walker, Kendrick’s lawyer, said no decision has been made on whether there will be an appeal of the defamation verdict in Maine.
There is a possibility that Geilenfeld will face a new criminal trial in Haiti. He was held for 237 days in a Haitian lockup before a judge freed him earlier this year after a brief trial.
Haitian Justice Minister Pierre-Richard Casimir has criticized the judge’s decision, and told The Associated Press on Wednesday that an appeal filed by lawyers for Geilenfeld’s accusers was “following its normal route in the justice system.” He said the country’s supreme court will decide whether to grant a new criminal trial.
Manuel Jeanty, a lawyer for the five accusers, now adults, said he expects the court to make a decision in the next three months.
“All we can do now is wait,” he said.
During the U.S. defamation lawsuit, Geilenfeld testified that he had been dogged by false accusations in Haiti because he was a gay man in a country he described as homophobic. He said all accusations were dispelled by previous investigations but the same claims kept resurfacing.