Police detain US founder of Haiti orphanage
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — A U.S. man who founded a boys’ orphanage in Haiti nearly two decades ago was arrested Friday following abuse allegations, authorities said.
Michael Karl Geilenfeld, 62, was detained at the orphanage on suspicion of charges of indecent assault and criminal conspiracy, Port-au-Prince General Prosecutor Charles Kerson told The Associated Press.
Geilenfeld was handcuffed and placed in the back of a police pickup truck and taken to a police station in the Petionville district of Port-au-Prince. He declined comment to an AP journalist before he was taken away, as did a manager of the orphanage who rode with Geilenfeld to the station.
Kerson said Geilenfeld did not resist arrest or say anything to police as they entered the St. Joseph’s Home for Boys in the Delmas neighborhood on Friday afternoon.
“Many people have brought complaints about this place,” Kerson said, adding that police will interrogate him.
Kerson said a judge ordered the children removed from the orphanage earlier this year.
Alain Lemithe, Geilenfeld’s attorney, arrived at the police station and told the AP that police have no evidence against his client. He accused the prosecutor of detaining him without an arrest warrant.
“This is arbitrary and illegal,” Lemithe said. “They have no proof.”
He declined further comment.
Geilenfeld was placed in a holding cell at the police station, where he sat on the floor and waited for authorities.
Williams Lamarre, a 28-year-old Haitian, told the AP he had been working for Geilenfeld for roughly six years and that he was surprised by the arrest.
“I don’t know what to think,” he said. “I have this job because of Michael. I did not expect this at all.”
Lamarre declined further comment before he entered the gate leading to the orphanage and locked it behind him.
In early February, police from the child protection unit and U.N. personnel went to the orphanage with a summons stating they were there to take the children into custody but left without them for reasons that were never disclosed.
Geilenfeld founded the St. Joseph’s Home for Boys in Haiti in 1985. Over the years, it has grown into a network of three homes, including one for disabled boys. Geilenfeld also created the Resurrection Dance Theater, a traveling dance troupe made up of boys from the homes, to raise money for the charity and serve as an artistic outlet for residents.
In June 2011, the board of directors of St. Joseph’s Home sent out a letter denying allegations of sex abuse publicized by Paul Kendrick, a co-founder of the Maine chapter of the Catholic lay reform group Voice of the Faithful who is an advocate for child abuse victims.
In February 2013, Geilenfeld and Hearts with Haiti, a North Carolina-based organization that raises money for the St. Joseph’s Home, filed a defamation suit in federal court in Maine against Kendrick, alleging that the activist “has published false and heinous allegations of plaintiffs’ involvement in child abuse” and “bullied” donors into withdrawing support for the organization.
The suit is scheduled to go to trial later this year.
Associated Press reporter Ben Fox in Miami contributed to this story.