Vladimir Duthiers and Hannah Yi
(CNN) - An American school founder who young Haitian men once hailed as a savior was sentenced Tuesday to nearly 20 years in prison for sexually abusing them.
Douglas Perlitz, 40, was sentenced in federal court in New Haven, Connecticut, to 19 years and 7 months behind bars for abusing the Haitian men when they were boys under his care, said Bruce Foucart, special agent in charge of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Office of Homeland Security Investigations in Boston.
"We're very pleased with the sentence," he said. "He was brought to justice and I hope it sends a strong message to people who are doing that or who are even thinking about doing that."
Judge Janet Bond Arterton imposed the sentence, which includes 10 years of supervised release.
Perlitz arrived in the northern Haitian city of Cap-Haitien in 1997. There, he opened a charitable school called the Project Pierre Toussaint (PPT). He got homeless boys off the streets and gave them shelter, food and education.
"When I met Mr. Douglas, he appeared to us like Jesus Christ himself come to rescue us," said Francilien Jean-Charles, who was only 12 when he was plucked by Perlitz and brought to the school.
Over the years, PPT grew into a 10-acre compound with dorms, classrooms and a soccer field.
Perlitz frequently flew back to Fairfield, Connecticut, to raise money. According to court documents, from 2002 to 2008, donors gave more than $2 million to help care for the kids. Perlitz's alma mater, Fairfield University, awarded him an honorary degree in 2002 for helping homeless boys in Haiti.
But Perlitz was hardly the man he appeared to be.
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Dr. Gary Blick has been an HIV/AIDS specialist for 23 years. He has cared for his patients at their healthiest until their final days. And those final days have always been the hardest.
“I’m a physician, but I’m a human being on top of this,” said Dr. Blick of Norwalk, Connecticut. “It’s really suffering to watch your patients go slowly and agonizingly.”
During those final days with patients, Dr. Blick has repeatedly gotten one request: to help them die quickly and with dignity.
“Many times they have begged me to help them,” Dr. Blick said. “They actually beg for these medications.”
He means medication like Percocet, Xanax or other prescription pills that patients can get at their local pharmacies. However if his patients were to overdose on medication he prescribed, Dr. Blick would be charged with second-degree manslaughter. Under Connecticut law, it’s a felony to intentionally aid another person in committing suicide.
So Dr. Blick, along with Connecticut physician Dr. Ron Levine, is suing the state so he won’t have to go to jail when it comes time to help his patients with death. The two physicians want the court to clarify that that the action does not constitute assisted suicide.
“We’re not talking about hooking up a potassium chloride drip and having our patient’s heart stopped from arrhythmia,” said Dr. Blick.” We’re talking about terminally ill patients who I’ve counseled over the years, and that I would like to be able to give them prescriptions and help them die with dignity.”
However, opponents say there is no other way to interpret the action of a doctor who knowingly provides drugs for the purpose of killing.
“Doctors who want to be able to legally prescribe poison so that a patient will kill themselves – that’s not medicine,” said Wesley J. Smith of the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide. “That is suicide as described in any dictionary.”
And that’s what is currently in the books in Connecticut, which Dr. Blick and his terminally ill patients hope to overturn.
You can find more information about Blick v. Connecticut at Compassion and Choices.
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