Haiti missionary's arrest clouds Triangle fundraising efforts
Posted September 22, 2014 5:43 p.m. EDT
Raleigh, N.C. — An orphanage in Haiti that is funded primarily by money from the Triangle remains shut down following the founder's arrest.
Churches and area volunteers have donated millions of dollars to St. Joseph's School for Boys. Much of the funding is funneled though Hearts With Haiti, a nonprofit run out of West Raleigh Presbyterian Church.
Founder Michael Geilenfeld, 62, remains in a jail in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, after he was arrested early this month. No formal charges have been filed against him, but but Paul Kendrick, a self-described victims' rights advocate, accuses Geilenfeld of sex abuse, child prostitution and drug trafficking.
Of the three homes for children Geilenfeld operates, the home for boys where he resided has been closed, and the children who lived there have been reassigned to other homes. A second home for boys and a co-ed home for disabled children remain open and overseen by other staff members, as does an elementary school operated by St. Joseph's.
Geilenfeld's attorney, Devin Deane, calls the arrest the result of a smear campaign by Kendrick.
"It's this man's addiction to his identity as a child victim's advocate. This is what he does day in and day out," Deane said.
Deane called the timing of the arrest suspicious. Geilenfeld has sued Kendrick for defamation, and that case is set to go to trial next week. Geilenfeld's arrest could delay the trial.
Kendrick began launching strongly worded sex abuse allegations against Geilenfeld years ago.
Court documents obtained by WRAL News offer almost no proof of those claims, and a year-long investigation by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security found "no evidence" of sex abuse by Geilenfeld.
Despite emails showing Kendrick may have privately questioned the validity of the claims against Geilenfeld, attorney David Walker said Kendrick "does not have doubts and believes the numerous testimony from individuals who have come forward to tell their story."
Hearts with Haiti declined to comment Monday, but the allegations are throwing a dark cloud over fundraising efforts.
"It's sad for this to happen because it's a good mission and they need a lot of help down there. Haiti is really in a lot of trouble," donor Serita Eisenbies said.
"I don't think it would deter me from giving to them because the group itself is still a great cause. All those people are still in need," donor Julie Forsyth said.