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Ex-Marine to face U.S. charges in Cambodian child-rape case

February 10, 2007|Greg Krikorian | Times Staff Writer

A retired Marine Corps captain who had worked as a teacher in Cambodia was returned to the U.S. to face charges that he raped and sexually abused girls as young as 9.

Michael Joseph Pepe, 53, was being held without bond Friday after arriving in Los Angeles escorted by agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Arraignment is scheduled for next month in federal court.

In a sworn affidavit, a customs agent said authorities learned of the man's alleged assaults in June when two private agencies reported that a number of children had been raped at Pepe's residential compound in Phnom Penh.

According to the affidavit, the information provided by the International Justice Mission and World Hope International led investigators to interview four girls, ages 9 to 12, who alleged they had been sexually abused by Pepe. The affidavit also alleged that some of the victims had been drugged, bound and beaten.

"The details of this case are as appalling as any we've ever encountered in a sex tourism investigation," said Robert Schoch, special agent in charge of the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement office of investigations in Los Angeles. The investigation also involved the U.S. State Department and the Cambodian National Police.

The children were turned over to Pepe by a Cambodian prostitute he met in a bar, according to the affidavit.

The prostitute, who also was arrested, said she had had sex with Pepe many times and provided him with young girls after paying their families an "upfront fee" and then a monthly stipend for unlimited access to the children, the affidavit says. In one case, according to the customs agency, the broker said she received a $10 commission for a girl whose family was paid $300.

Pepe, whose last U.S. address was in Oxnard, is the fourth person to be federally prosecuted in Los Angeles on child sex tourism charges under the 2002 Protect Act, which substantially toughens the law against child predators outside the U.S. and increases their sentences.

Pepe could get 30 years in federal prison if convicted.

greg.krikorian@latimes.com

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