PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) - Haitian authorities on Thursday closed an orphanage for boys founded three decades ago by a U.S. citizen facing accusations he sexually abused children in his care.
Police padlocked the doors at the St. Joseph Home for Boys in the Delmas 91 neighborhood of Port-au-Prince. About two-dozen shouting men tried to prevent the closure, but a government agent scattered the group by firing a gun into the air.
Police and judicial officials locked the main door of the orphanage before the men, many of them employees and former residents of the home, returned to try again to stop the shutdown.
Haitian investigators looking into new allegations of sexual abuse against orphanage founder Michael Geilenfeld have sought to detain him in recent days but have been unable to locate the Iowa native and former Catholic brother. He has had travel restrictions placed on him by Haitian authorities but it is not known if they seized his U.S. passport.
In an Oct. 29 court order seen by The Associated Press, Judge Bernard Sainvil allowed all of Geilenfeld’s charitable operations in Haiti to be shuttered by authorities due to allegations of “rape and sexual aggression.”
The order covered the orphanage closed Thursday as well as the Wings of Hope home for physically and mentally disabled children and young adults in the hills above the capital and a newer facility called Trinity House in the southern coastal city of Jacmel. It was not immediately clear if police also shuttered those facilities Thursday.
Geilenfeld has repeatedly denied accusations of molesting boys under his care in Haiti.
He filed a civil lawsuit in the U.S. in which a jury in late July ordered a Maine activist to pay $14.5 million in damages to him and North Carolina-based Hearts with Haiti after finding he defamed them by leading an email blitz accusing Geilenfeld of sexually abusing Haitian children.
In the trial of that case in Maine, Geilenfeld testified he believed the accusations of sexual abuse lingered against him in impoverished Haiti because he is a gay man in what he described as a homophobic country.
Haitian officials say they are looking at evidence from a new batch of alleged victims and re-examining an initial criminal case against him.
Geilenfeld spent 237 days in detention in the earlier case before being released in April by a Haitian judge who 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.
During the orphanage’s closure Thursday, Haitian investigators were accompanied by Valerie Dirksen, a real estate agent from the Atlanta 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.
Dirksen said the latest 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.
She said a second criminal case against Geilenfeld in Haiti should get its first court hearing in about three months. The alleged victims are aged between 18 and 28 and she says she has the support of the administration of outgoing President Michel Martelly.
“We have an ironclad case,” she asserted as two employees of the orphanage shouted insults at her.
Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC.