Lawyer for indicted founder of Haitian orphanage says a previous grand jury didn't charge him | World News - Hindustan Times

Lawyer for indicted founder of Haitian orphanage says a previous grand jury didn't charge him

AP |
Jan 26, 2024 06:30 AM IST

Lawyer for indicted founder of Haitian orphanage says a previous grand jury didn't charge him

DENVER (AP) — An American founder of a Haitian orphanage who has been charged with sexual abuse was investigated by a grand jury about a decade ago but not indicted, according to a court document filed by his attorney on Thursday.

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The revelation was included in a filing requesting that Michael Geilenfeld be released from custody while the current case proceeds. The detention hearing was delayed until Friday.

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Geilenfeld, 71, was indicted on Jan. 18 by a grand jury in Florida and accused of traveling from Miami to Haiti “for the purpose of engaging in any illicit sexual conduct with another person under 18. He was arrested in Colorado on Saturday.

The behavior 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.

Geilenfeld has not yet entered a plea and his attorney, Robert Oberkoetter, has declined to comment on the charges. But in the petition seeking Geilenfeld's release, Oberkoetter wrote that a federal grand jury in Charlotte, North Carolina, had already investigated his client in 2012. The jury subpoenaed Geilenfeld's travel documents, including those involving the time period at issue in the new case, and interviewed witnesses about allegations of pedophilia and child abuse, but did not indict him, Oberkoetter said.

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. He said the government violated its own rules by not seeking permission to pursue the same case with another grand jury. Oberkoetter also asked that Geilenfeld be tried in Colorado, not Florida, where the charges were filed, but did not say why.

Justice Department spokesperson Scottie Howell declined to comment.

Lawyers had been set to argue in court on Thursday about whether Geilenfeld should be released from a suburban Denver prison where he is currently being held. But the debate was delayed until Friday after Geilenfeld said he has not yet been able to speak with Oberkoetter, who works in Massachusetts. U.S. Marshals agreed to take him to their holding cells in the courthouse after the hearing so he could talk to his lawyer privately by phone.

Defendants in unrelated cases often sit together in a jury box until they are called, but Geilenfeld was kept in a room away from others until his case was up for review. Dressed in a khaki prison uniform and with his wrists and ankles shackled, he told the judge he is being held in isolation and only allowed out of his cell for two hours each morning.

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.

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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