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Child Exploitation

Santa Barbara man arrested after seeking "guide" on Craigslist to procure Thai children for sex

LOS ANGELES - A Santa Barbara sales representative made his initial appearance in federal court here this afternoon to face federal child sex tourism charges after he allegedly advertised on the Internet site Craiglist.com for a "guide" to help him procure children for sex in Thailand.

Michael Patrick Mahoney, 51, was arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) special agents at Los Angeles International Airport Saturday night as he boarded a flight ultimately destined for Bangkok, Thailand. Mahoney is charged in a criminal complaint with one count of traveling with the intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct in foreign places, a violation that carries a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison. At Mahoney's initial hearing this afternoon, U.S. Magistrate Charles F. Eick set his bond at $100,000.

When ICE agents arrested Mahoney, he had in his possession children's stuffed animals, Disneyland shirts, chocolates, and approximately $800 in U.S. and Thai currency.

The investigation into Mahoney began last week after ICE agents spotted his suspicious posting on the Craiglist website. Subsequently, an undercover ICE agent posing as a travel guide e-mailed the defendant and offered to make the requested arrangements. In subsequent e-mails and phone conversations with the undercover agent, Mahoney expressed interest in engaging in sexual activities with 12 and 13-year-old Thai boys and girls. Mahoney asked the agent to call him to confirm that he would be able to procure the children for sexual encounters with him in Bangkok this week.

"This case is yet another disturbing reminder that those who have a sexual interest in children believe they can evade detection and prosecution by committing sex crimes overseas," said Robert Schoch, special agent in charge for the ICE office of investigations in Los Angeles. "Fortunately for the world's young people, foreign authorities and U.S. law enforcement are allied in their resolve to combat this problem and bring the perpetrators to justice."

ICE received assistance in the investigation from its attaché office in Bangkok and members of the Los Angeles Police Department's Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.

Mahoney is being charged under the provisions of the PROTECT Act, which was signed into law by President Bush five years ago. The PROTECT Act substantially strengthened federal laws against predatory crimes involving children outside the United States by adding new crimes, increasing sentences, and modifying the burden of proof requirements for federal prosecutors to bring charges.

Mahoney's arrest is part of Operation Predator, an ongoing ICE enforcement initiative launched five years ago to target those who prey upon and sexually exploit our nation's children, including Internet pornographers, human traffickers, international sex tourists, and foreign national sexual predators. Since the initiative began, ICE agents have arrested more than 11,000 individuals nationwide.

ICE encourages the reporting of suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free hotline at 1-866-DHS-2ICE. 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 & Exploited Children, an Operation Predator partner, at 1-800-843-5678 or www.cybertipline.com.