ONE OF FBI's TOP 10 Arrested in Thailand

Tuesday, August 21st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) _ A confessed American pedophile who is among the FBI's ten most-wanted fugitives was arrested Tuesday and is likely to be extradited to the United States, Thai police said.

Eric Franklin Rosser, 49, a former concert pianist in Bloomington, Ind., was arrested by FBI agents and Thai police in Bangkok, where he was training to be an English language teacher. He had hoped to get a job tutoring children in northern Thailand.

Rosser had returned to Thailand on a fake passport two months ago, police said, despite jumping bail here last year before he was to stand trial for possession of child pornography and lewd behavior.

Police said he has since had liposuction and cosmetic surgery to disguise his identity.

Rosser said he came back to Thailand to visit his 2-year-old son. He told police his Thai wife lives in the United States but it was not clear who was looking after the child.

``I'm not the evil man everyone thinks I am. I love Thailand, that's why I'm back here again,'' a handcuffed Rosser told reporters as he was led into a police car to accompany officers on a search of his Bangkok apartment.

Police reported finding an ounce of marijuana, two fake Swedish and Norwegian passports and dozens of diskettes containing child pornography.

Rosser had lived in the Bloomington area for about 10 years before moving overseas in 1989, but has made return visits and maintained ties to Indiana, authorities said.

A U.S. Embassy official said the United States was seeking his extradition.

Col. Suraphol Thongprasert, the chief Thai investigator in the case, said Rosser would likely be deported, pending a decision from the Thai Foreign Affairs Ministry.

Rosser was originally arrested in Bangkok on Feb. 9, 2000, after a raid turned up hundreds of explicit photographs and videos of girls who appeared to be younger than age 15.

In March 2000, he was also indicted by a U.S. federal grand jury in Indianapolis, on six counts of producing and distributing child pornography, including a video that showed him having sex with a girl said to be 11 years old. FBI officials said the charges involved photographs or videos made between 1994 and 1998 of three girls, ages nine to 11, including two girls from the Bloomington area.

The FBI described Rosser as an admitted child molester and offered up to $50,000 for information leading to his arrest. His case was featured several times on the TV show ``America's Most Wanted,'' drawing responses from viewers in 53 countries, the embassy official said.

At the time of his initial arrest, Rosser had been working as a pianist at Bangkok's luxury Oriental Hotel and gave music lessons to children from prominent families at his home. He also played in rock star John Mellencamp's band in the late 1970s.

He subsequently admitted in an interview with a Thai newspaper to frequent indecent acts with children and claimed he had lived a tortured life because of it.

Thailand and neighboring Southeast Asian countries have become havens for foreign pedophiles because of relaxed attitudes toward sex and prostitution, bribe-prone law enforcement and poverty that forces families to sell their children into the sex trade.

Rosser faces between five and 20 years' imprisonment if convicted of the Thai charges, but Thailand can choose to waive his trial and extradite him to the United States. He faces up to 15 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 for each of the six counts in the U.S. indictment.