Updated at: 07/31/2013 3:05 PM
By JENNIFER KAY
(AP) MIAMI - A Michigan man was sentenced Wednesday to 165 years in prison for traveling from Florida to Haiti countless times to sexually abuse dozens of children who lived in a group home he ran for the poor.
A jury convicted Matthew Andrew Carter, 68, in February on five counts of traveling from the U.S. for the purpose of engaging in sexual activity with minors, along with one count of attempt child sex tourism.
On the second day of Carter’s sentencing hearing, Judge Joan Lenard imposed the maximum sentence prosecutors sought: 15 years for the first count and 30 years in prison for each of the remaining charges.
Carter, who also went by the names "William Charles Harcourt" and "Bill Carter," ran the Morning Star Center in Haiti, first in Croix-des-Bouquets and then in the capital of Port-au-Prince, from 1995 until his arrest at Miami International Airport in 2011.
Prosecutors said he targeted poor and vulnerable children. Former Morning Star residents testified during trial and again during sentencing that he forced them to engage in sexual acts with him when they were children in exchange for food, clothes, toys, shelter and school tuition.
Carter’s actions sullied America’s reputation for generosity and aid, Lenard said.
"I say to the victims of these crimes, as an American, America apologizes to you. This is not what America is about," Lenard said.
Thousands of children in Haiti live in orphanages or group homes like the Morning Star Center even though at least one parent may be living. Carter testified during trial that Haitian national police investigated multiple complaints of sexual misconduct at the center over the last decade, but Haitian authorities never charged him with any crime, nor did they take the rare step of shutting down the home until after his arrest in the U.S.
Carter, formerly of Brighton, Mich., questioned the lack of physical evidence presented during his trial. He also disputed the credibility of the dozens of victims who testified against him and wrote letters to the judge for his sentencing.
Some had been expelled from the Morning Star Center for stealing, left in a dispute to join another minister’s program, or "got in with a very bad crew," he said.
"Your honor, you’ve said these boys were very credible. I beg to differ," Carter said.
Prosecutor Maria Medetis said that although all the victims who testified during trial were male, Carter also abused girls at the center. Altogether, U.S. authorities identified 52 victims they said were sexually abused by Carter over the years at the group home.
A female former resident said in a letter read by prosecutor Bonnie Kane that Carter sent her home on weekends, adding to the torment of the sexual and physical abuse she endured in exchange for regular meals and an education.
"He knew it was hell for me because we had no food," she wrote. "I knew what I had to do to go to school."
Four young men who once lived at the center said during Wednesday’s hearing that they had come to Carter when they had nowhere else to go, and though he may have fed, clothed and educated them, they continue to suffer mentally from the effects of his abuse.
One turned to address Carter face-to-face in English. "I don’t hate you. I do forgive you. You did do some good for me, but I think society doesn’t need someone like you, that you should be locked up for what you did," he said.
The Associated Press generally does not identify victims of alleged sexual abuse.
Carter’s court-appointed defense attorneys declined comment. U.S. Attorney Wilfredo A. Ferrer said in a statement that Carter’s sentencing "brings to a close a horrific chapter in the lives of these victims."
Carter has 14 days to file an appeal.
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(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)