A Garden Grove retiree who authorities say planned to travel to the Philippines to have sex with preteen girls began hearing the evidence against him Tuesday in the first trial of someone charged under a new federal law aimed at international child sex tourism.
John W. Seljan, 86, sat in a wheelchair in a Santa Ana courtroom as federal agents described his arrest in October 2003 at Los Angeles International Airport, where prosecutors say he tried to board a flight with child pornography, sexual aids and nearly 100 pounds of chocolate.
Seljan, who prosecutors say had exchanged letters with two girls he planned to meet in the Philippines, told investigators that he had "sexually educated" young girls in that country with their parents' consent since 1983, said Shane Folden, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent.
"He said he didn't believe it was rape, that it was accepted over there -- culturally accepted," Folden testified.
The charges against Seljan, a retired business owner, include attempted travel with intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct, and two counts each of possessing and producing child pornography. He faces up to 200 years in prison if convicted.
He is one of about a dozen men from around the nation charged under the Protect Act, a law adopted in 2003 that included provisions increasing the penalties for those convicted of engaging in sex with minors overseas and making it easier to prosecute them.
Two other men charged under the Protect Act have pleaded guilty, but authorities say Seljan is the first to go to trial under the law. At his request, his case is being heard by a judge rather than a jury and is expected to last two to three days.
His attorney, Allan Stokke, did not make an opening statement Monday but repeatedly challenged the prosecution's evidence.
He questioned, for example, whether agents know with certainty that his client sent the sexually explicit letters to the girls in the Philippines.