LOS ANGELES - A 63-year-old retired engineer from Mississippi made his initial appearance in federal court here late yesterday afternoon on charges stemming from an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) into allegations he engaged in illicit sexual conduct with underage girls in Thailand and Cambodia.
Curtis David Fahlberg, of Pascagoula, Miss., was taken into custody by ICE agents June 12 at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) following his deportation from Thailand. Fahlberg, accompanied by ICE agents, was returned from Thailand to face charges detailed in a criminal complaint filed last month that he engaged in illicit sexual conduct in foreign places. The violation carries a maximum sentence of up to 30 years in prison. The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California.
Fahlberg was arrested June 9 at his residence in Pattaya City, Thailand, by Thai immigration authorities and placed in deportation proceedings. At yesterday's hearing, U.S. Magistrate Judge Jennifer T. Lum ordered Fahlberg detained pending trial.
ICE's probe into Fahlberg's activities began in June 2006 after officers with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at LAX questioned him following his return from a trip to Thailand. A preliminary examination by CBP of two laptop computers and a cell phone Fahlberg had in his possession revealed images of children in various stages of undress. A subsequent forensic analysis by ICE of those media uncovered more sexually explicit images of children as well as numerous emails written by Fahlberg detailing his sexual exploitation of children in Thailand and Cambodia.
The affidavit filed in connection with the criminal complaint describes the defendant's alleged sexual activities with several underage girls, the youngest of whom told investigators she was in second grade when the defendant began photographing her in the nude. According to the affidavit, several of the girls Fahlberg had sexual encounters with were child prostitutes who worked in the Cambodian village of Svay Pak outside Phnom Pehn. In an email recovered from Fahlberg's computer, he wrote,"I don't worry how old a girl is if I like her."
"The exploitation of children is among the most heinous of crimes," said Director of Field Operations Kevin Weeks. "CBP will remain vigilant in our efforts to secure our borders - and our communities - by working diligently to enforce laws involving crimes against children."
The probe into Fahlberg's activities was conducted by ICE's Office of Investigations in Los Angeles and the agency's attachÃ© office in Bangkok. ICE worked closely on the case with the Department of State's Diplomatic Security Service, the Cambodian National Police and the Royal Thai Police. ICE also received substantial assistance from Hagar International and World Vision, two non-governmental organizations involved in the effort to aid Cambodian child sex tourism victims.
Fahlberg is being prosecuted under the provisions of the PROTECT Act. The PROTECT Act, which went into effect six years ago, substantially strengthened federal laws against predatory crimes involving children outside the United States by adding new crimes and increasing the penalties for these charges.
This investigation is part of Operation Predator, an ongoing ICE initiative to protect children from sexual predators, including those who travel overseas for sex with minors, Internet child pornographers, criminal alien sex offenders, and child sex traffickers. ICE encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free hotline at 1-866-347-2423. This hotline is staffed around the clock by investigators.
Suspected child sexual exploitation or missing children may be reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, an Operation Predator partner, at 1-800-843-5678 or http://www.cybertipline.com.