NATIONAL NEWS

US founder of Haiti orphanage who is accused of sexual abuse will remain behind bars for now

Feb 1, 2024, 4:03 PM

DENVER (AP) — An American founder of a Haitian orphanage who is accused of forcing four boys who lived in the institution to engage in sexual acts more than a decade ago will remain behind bars for now even though a magistrate judge in Colorado ruled Thursday that he should be sent to live in a halfway house.

Federal prosecutors said they would appeal the decision to a federal judge in Florida, where Michael Geilenfeld was indicted last month and accused of traveling from Miami to Haiti between 2010 and 2016 “for the purpose of engaging in any illicit sexual conduct with another person under 18.” The charge he faces carries a penalty of up to 30 years in prison.

Magistrate Judge Scott Varholak said his order to release Geilenfeld, 71, would not take effect until a judge in Florida rules on the matter.

Geilenfeld, who has faced past accusations of abusing boys, has been held in a suburban Denver federal prison since his Jan. 20 arrest in Colorado. He told Varholak earlier that he was being held in isolation and only allowed out of his cell for two hours every morning.

His attorney, Brian Leedy, told Varholak that Geilenfeld had the support of a “large community of individuals” who have supported him for 20 years and would help him get back and forth to court dates in Florida. Leedy did not immediately respond to a phone call and email seeking comment on the allegations against Geilenfeld.

Prosecutors argued that Geilenfeld, who they say allegedly abused about 20 children over decades, could try to intimidate his victims if he is freed and poses a flight risk since, given his age, a conviction could put him behind bars for the rest of his life.

Geilenfeld has a pattern of bribing and threatening people when he is investigated, according to Jessica Urban of the Justice Department’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section. One adult victim involved in a civil proceeding involving Geilenfeld said Geilenfeld told him that “if he loved his children” he would recant his allegation, which he took as a threat, she said.

Varholak called the allegations against Geilenfeld “beyond troubling” but said the government had not provided enough details to show he had actually threatened anyone or that he commited abuse since the time alleged in the indictment over a decade ago. Under his stayed order, Geilenfeld would be put on home detention in the halfway house and outfitted with a GPS monitor.

Haitian authorities arrested Geilenfeld in September 2014 based on allegations brought by Paul Kendrick, a child advocate in Maine. Kendrick accused him of being a serial pedophile after speaking to young men who said they were abused by Geilenfeld as boys in Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital where he founded the orphanage in 1985.

Geilenfeld called the claims “vicious, vile lies,” and his case was dismissed in 2015 after he spent 237 days in prison in Haiti.

He and a charity associated with the orphanage, Hearts for Haiti, sued Kendrick in federal court in Maine, blaming Kendrick for Geilenfeld’s imprisonment, damage to his reputation and the loss of millions of dollars in donations.

Kendrick’s insurance companies settled the lawsuit in 2019 by paying $3 million to Hearts with Haiti, but nothing to Geilenfeld.

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US founder of Haiti orphanage who is accused of sexual abuse will remain behind bars for now