Three Americans who traveled to Cambodia to have sex with children have been charged by U.S. federal prosecutors and will be brought back to the country to face trial in federal court later, it was announced on Monday.
This is the first time Americans have been charged for having sex with children in foreign countries under an international law enforcement initiative.
The announcement was made by U.S. Attorney Thomas P. O'Brien and U.S. Department of Homeland Security Assistant Secretary for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) John Morton at a press conference here.
The Three Americans are aged between 41 and 75. The charges against the three men are the result of operation "Twisted Traveler," an ongoing effort by the Department of Justice and the ICE to identify and prosecute "sex tourists" who travel to Cambodia to engage in illicit sex with children.
The three defendants currently being transported to the United States were previously convicted of sex offenses in the country. They will be taken into custody by ICE agents when they arrive at Los Angeles International Airport, which is expected to be sometime on Monday afternoon.
The three American men, who are named in separate criminal complaints filed earlier this year in U.S. District Court, are expected to make their initial appearances in federal court on Tuesday afternoon.
Prior to their return to the United States, the three were arrested and detained by Cambodian authorities on charges related to child sexual exploitation.
At the news conference, O'Brien and Morton announced the three cases and promised further enforcement actions focusing on Americans who sexually exploit children in Cambodia and other countries.
"The men charged in this investigation apparently thought they could pursue their abhorrent desires by leaving the United States to prey on children in another country, but they were sadly mistaken," said O'Brien.
"We are now working closer than ever with officials in other nations and concerned private parties to take every effort we can to identify and prosecute sex tourists, as well as to provide every protection we can to the world's children," he stressed.
Morton said at the press conference: "Sexual predators cannot escape justice simply by traveling overseas to exploit, violate and abuse children. Working closely with our partners overseas, ICE will identify people who travel for illicit purposes. We must protect children from sexual exploitation, whether in the United States or abroad. Today's announcement should send a message that traveling overseas to exploit children will not be tolerated and will not go unnoticed."
The Twisted Traveler cases are the result of information provided to the ICE by investigators for Action Pour Les Enfants (APLE), a non-governmental organization (NGO) established to combat child sexual exploitation, and International Justice Mission (IJM),a human rights agency that secures justice for victims of slavery, sexual exploitation and other forms of violent oppression.
According to documents released by the U.S. Attorney's Office, Ronald Gerard Boyajian, 49, of Menlo Park, California, was arrested by the Cambodian National Police (CNP) in February.
According to an affidavit by an ICE agent, Boyajian traveled to Cambodia a year ago, where he allegedly engaged in sexual activity with a 10-year-old Vietnamese girl in an area outside Phnom Penh frequented by child sex tourists known as "Kilo 11."
Erik Leonardus Peeters, 41, of Norwalk, California, was taken into custody by the CNP in late February. The criminal complaint accuses Peeters of engaging in sexual activity with at least three Cambodian boys. The affidavit in the case states that Peeters, who arrived in Cambodia in May 2008, paid the minors 5 to 10 U.S. dollars for sex.
Jack Louis Sporich, 75, formerly of Santa Monica, California and now a resident of Sedona, Arizona, was arrested by the CNP in February.
According to the criminal complaint, Sporich sexually abused at least one underage Cambodian boy after he arrived there in November 2008. Sporich often drove his motorbike through the streets of the city of Siem Riep, dropping Cambodian currency as away to attract children.
The three men are charged under the PROTECT Act, which went into effect six years ago and substantially strengthened the federal laws related to predatory crimes involving children outside the United States by adding new crimes and increasing sentences.
Boyajian, Peeters and Sporich each are charged with international travel and engaging in illicit sexual conduct with minors, a charge that carries a statutory maximum penalty of 30 years in federal prison.
The child sex tourism cases announced today are the direct result of the unprecedented cooperation among U.S. authorities such as the FBI and Department of State, the Cambodian government and NGOs to target Americans traveling to Cambodia to sexually exploit minors.
"These new charges clearly demonstrate to the Cambodian people that the United States will not tolerate this type of abuse," said Carol Rodley, U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia.
"These cases not only signal to the Cambodian victims our commitment to justice, but they will also act as a powerful deterrent for those individuals who are contemplating traveling to Cambodia to engage in illegal sexual activity with minors," Rodley added.