A North Carolina man who founded a boys’ orphanage in Haiti has been arrested by Haitian authorities on allegations that he abused children. The arrest came just one month before a defamation lawsuit he filed in Maine against a Freeport man was scheduled for trial.

Michael Geilenfeld, 62, was arrested at the orphanage in the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, on Friday on charges of indecent assault and criminal conspiracy, raising questions of whether his lawsuit against Paul Kendrick of Freeport will go forward on Oct. 7 as scheduled.

Kendrick has claimed in numerous postings on websites, radio broadcasts and hundreds of emails that Geilenfeld has sexually abused the boys living at the St. Joseph’s Home for Boys, which he founded in 1985 in Port-au-Prince. Geilenfeld filed suit against Kendrick last year in U.S. District Court in Portland, accusing him of “a malicious campaign of outrageous conduct.”

Geilenfeld’s arrest came just a week after a Maine judge ruled against Kendrick in a 54-page order, denying Kendrick’s argument that his accusations against Geilenfeld were made without malice and were protected speech under the First Amendment. Kendrick had requested the court dismiss Geilenfeld’s claims.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge John A. Woodcock Jr. cleared the way for Geilenfeld and Hearts with Haiti, his North Carolina-based nonprofit organization that raises money for the orphanage, to bring Kendrick to trial.

Woodcock’s order was unsealed Monday after the judge also scheduled a phone conference to be held Friday morning between attorneys for Geilenfeld and Kendrick to determine how the lawsuit will proceed in light of Geilenfeld’s arrest.

Geilenfeld’s lead attorney in the case, Peter DeTroy III, called the timing of his client’s arrest “suspicious,” given that it followed so closely after Woodcock’s Aug. 28 ruling against Kendrick. DeTroy, of the Portland law firm Norman, Hanson and DeTroy, would not say whether he thought Kendrick had something to do with Geilenfeld’s arrest.

“We’re confident that there is no basis for this arrest. It’s completely meritless,” DeTroy said Monday afternoon. “The timing is quite suspicious.”

Kendrick did not return a phone message left Monday. One of his attorneys, Brent Singer of the Bangor law firm Rudman and Winchell, also did not respond to a request for comment.

Geilenfeld was handcuffed and placed in the back of a police pickup truck and taken to a police station after his arrest Friday in Haiti, according to The Associated Press.

Port-au-Prince General Prosecutor Charles Kerson told the AP that Geilenfeld had been ordered detained after many complaints against the orphanage and that police would interrogate him. Kerson said a judge ordered the children removed from the orphanage earlier this year.

Alain Lemithe, Geilenfeld’s attorney in Haiti, said after the arrest that police have no evidence against Geilenfeld. He accused the prosecutor of detaining him without an arrest warrant.

“This is arbitrary and illegal,” Lemithe said. “They have no proof.”

Court records indicate that Geilenfeld and Kendrick have never met and that Kendrick had never visited the Haitian orphanage before he began his online campaign against Geilenfeld in January 2011, accusing him of child sexual abuse.

Kendrick, an advocate for child abuse victims, began his campaign against Geilenfeld after communicating with a Haitian journalist, Cyrus Sibert, who also has a Florida address, the judge said in his order.

In early February, Haitian police from the child protection unit and United Nations personnel went to the orphanage with a summons saying they were there to take the children into custody but left without them for reasons that were never disclosed, the AP reported.


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