[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/WORLD/americas/12/21/haiti.abuse/story.haiti.perlitz.cnn.jpg caption="Douglas Perlitz was sentenced to nearly 20 years in prison Tuesday in New Haven, Connecticut." width=300 height=169]
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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