American founder of Haitian orphanage sexually abused 4 boys, prosecutor says

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An American founder of a Haitian orphanage forced four boys who lived in the institution to engage in sexual acts more than a decade ago, a prosecutor said Friday.

Michael Geilenfeld, 71, is a “dangerous, manipulative and cunning child sexual predator” who for decades has preyed on poor children while working abroad as a missionary, Jessica Urban, a prosecutor with the Justice Department’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, said during a detention hearing in Denver federal court.

Her statements marked the first time authorities have disclosed details of the investigation that led to Geilenfeld’s Jan. 18 indictment in Florida on charges of child sexual abuse. Urban, speaking via a video feed, offered the evidence to support her argument that Geilenfeld should not be released on bond as his case proceeds. She said authorities fear he or his supporters will try to intimidate victims to prevent them from testifying against him.

Magistrate Judge Scott Varholak delayed a decision, saying he needed more information about Geilenfeld’s living situation in Colorado, where he was arrested last weekend.

Geilenfeld’s attorney, Robert Oberkoetter, also appearing by video feed Friday, told the court that his client had a full-time job taking care of his landlady and her severely disabled child. When Varholak expressed concern that there could be a minor in the home, Geilenfeld, sitting by himself at the defense table, responded, “That person is 33 years old.” Oberkoetter has declined to comment on the allegations against Geilenfeld.

The Florida indictment accuses Geilenfeld of traveling from Miami to Haiti “for the purpose of engaging in any illicit sexual conduct with another person under 18.”

The abuse took place between November 2006 and December 2010, according to the indictment, a time period when Geilenfeld was operating the St. Joseph’s Home for Boys orphanage. The charge carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.

Varholak said he was concerned that it had taken the government so long to prosecute Geilenfeld, and he questioned how big of a danger he posed now after being free for so long. He also noted that a federal grand jury in North Carolina that investigated Geilenfeld in 2012 didn’t issue an indictment, which he said was a rare occurrence.

In a court filing Thursday, Oberkoetter accused prosecutors of “forum shopping,” a practice in which lawyers try to have cases tried in a jurisdiction where they think they will be more successful.

Authorities in Haiti have long investigated sex abuse allegations against Geilenfeld and arrested him in September 2014 based on allegations made against him by a child advocate in Maine, Paul Kendrick. Kendrick accused Geilenfeld of being a serial pedophile after speaking to young men who claimed they were abused by Geilenfeld when they were boys in Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital where he founded the orphanage in 1985.

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Geilenfeld called the claims “vicious, vile lies,” and his case was dismissed in 2015 after he spent 237 days in prison in Haiti. At some point, Geilenfeld and a charity associated with the orphanage, Hearts for Haiti, sued Kendrick in federal court in Maine. The suit blamed Kendrick for Geilenfeld’s imprisonment, damage to his reputation and the loss of millions of dollars in donations.

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

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