LOS ANGELES - The first three defendants to be charged under an international law enforcement initiative targeting Americans who travel to Cambodia to sexually exploit children have been removed from that Southeast Asian nation and are expected to arrive here later today to face prosecution in federal court.
The charges against the three men are the result of Operation "Twisted Traveler," an ongoing effort by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of Justice to identify and prosecute "sex tourists" who travel to Cambodia to engage in illicit sex with children.
The three defendants currently being transported to Los Angeles were previously convicted of sex offenses in the United States. The men will be taken into custody by ICE agents when they arrive at Los Angeles International Airport. The defendants, who are named in separate criminal complaints filed earlier this year in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, are expected to make their initial appearances in federal court tomorrow afternoon. Prior to their return to the United States, the men were arrested and detained by Cambodian authorities on charges related to child sexual exploitation.
At a news conference this morning, Homeland Security Assistant Secretary for ICE John Morton and United States Attorney Thomas P. O'Brien announced the three cases and promised further enforcement actions focusing on Americans who are sexually exploiting children in Cambodia and other countries.
"Sexual predators cannot escape justice simply by traveling overseas to exploit, violate, and abuse children," said Assistant Secretary Morton. "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 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 United States Attorney 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."
The Twisted Traveler cases are the result of information provided to 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.
The three defendants scheduled to arrive in Los Angeles this afternoon are:
- Ronald Gerard Boyajian, 49, of Menlo Park, Calif., who was arrested by the Cambodian National Police (CNP) in February. According to an affidavit by an ICE agent, Boyajian most recently 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, Calif., who 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 for sex.
- Jack Louis Sporich, 75, formerly of Santa Monica, Calif., and now a resident of Sedona, Ariz., who 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. According to the case affidavit, witnesses interviewed by APLE stated that Sporich often drove his motor bike through the streets of the city of Siem Riep, dropping Cambodian currency as a way 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 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. In June, a delegation including U.S. Attorney Thomas O'Brien, Los Angeles ICE Special Agent in Charge Robert Schoch and ICE's Bangkok attaché Barry Tang traveled to Cambodia. There, the group met with the U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia, along with the Commander General of the CNP and representatives from APLE and IJM, to discuss the ongoing enforcement efforts.
"These new charges clearly demonstrate to the Cambodian people that the United States will not tolerate this type of abuse," said Carol Rodley, the 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."
Operation Twisted Traveler is a collaborative investigative effort coordinated by ICE's Office of International Affairs that involves the agency's Attaché Office in Bangkok and the Los Angeles ICE Office of Investigations. ICE has received substantial support with this initiative from the Department of State's Diplomatic Security Service.
As part of Operation Twisted Traveler, ICE and FBI agents jointly conducted training for organizations in Cambodia involved in the effort to combat child sex tourism, including representatives from the CNP, local Cambodian law enforcement and several NGOs. The training covered all aspects of child sex tourism investigations, ranging from search and seizure procedures and surveillance techniques to the legal authorities contained in the PROTECT Act.