Ex-Marine captain accused of sexually abusing girls while working as teacher in Cambodia

Saturday, February 10th 2007, 3:04 pm
By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ A retired Marine captain accused of having sex with young girls while working as a teacher in Cambodia was being held on a sex charge in the U.S., federal authorities said Friday.

Michael Joseph Pepe, 53, arrived Wednesday at Los Angeles International Airport accompanied by federal agents after being expelled from Cambodia, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said in a statement.

A judge ordered him held without bond pending a March 12 arraignment in federal court. He faces one count of engaging in illicit sexual conduct in a foreign place and could get up to 30 years in prison if convicted.

It was unclear whether Pepe, whose last known U.S. address was in Oxnard, Calif., had retained an attorney. The phone numbers of Pepe's father and sister, who live in Ventura County, were not listed.

Pepe was arrested in Phnom Penh in June by Cambodian police investigating allegations he sexually abused four girls ages 9 to 12.

According to authorities, the children told federal investigators they lived at Pepe's home and were paid $1 to $5 for sexual favors.

``This is an appalling case, one of the worst I've ever encountered,'' said Robert Schoch, special agent in charge of the ICE office of investigations in Los Angeles. ``You can't go outside our borders as a U.S. citizen and believe that you can treat children this way.''

According to an ICE affidavit filed in support of Pepe's arrest, a woman identified as a Cambodian prostitute was arrested for recruiting families that were willing to sell the girls to Pepe.

The woman allegedly told Cambodian investigators she brought at least four girls to Pepe, authorities said. In one case, he paid a $200 ``upfront fee'' followed by monthly stipends to the mother of a Vietnamese girl in exchange for ``unlimited access to the child for sexual gratification,'' court papers said.

The same day of his arrest, authorities seized from Pepe's residence ropes, children's clothes, toys, child pornography and other items, according to the affidavit.

No details were provided about Pepe's service in the Marines.