Pendleton was sentenced to the statutory maximum of 30 years in prison and a lifetime of supervised release for violating the "Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to end the Exploitation of Children Today Act of 2003" (PROTECT Act). The PROTECT Act makes it a crime for U.S. citizens to travel abroad and commit illicit sexual acts with minors. Pendleton was also sentenced today to a concurrent term of 10 years in prison for failing to register as a sex offender in violation of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006.
After a three-day jury trial in September 2009, the federal jury found Pendleton guilty of violating the PROTECT Act. Evidence developed by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and introduced at trial established that Pendleton traveled from Philadelphia to Germany in November 2005, where he found his victim. At the time, the victim was a 14-year-old boy living in an orphanage. During the next several months, the defendant cultivated a friendship with the victim and made arrangements to take him on a biking trip in Germany. In May 2006, just after the victim turned 15 and while on the bike trip, the victim woke up to find Pendleton fondling him. The victim and a witness from the German camp site where the crime occurred traveled to the U.S. to testify.
"The defendant thought he could avoid being caught by U.S. law enforcement by preying on children abroad. He was wrong," said John P. Kelleghan, special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in Philadelphia. "Child predators can no longer travel outside our borders to mask their crimes. ICE and our international law enforcement partners around the world stand vigilant to protect the most vulnerable among us, our children."
Pendleton was convicted in April 2009, in a separate trial for failing to register as a sex offender. He has three prior convictions for sexually molesting or assaulting children aged nine through 13 years of age in two U.S. states and in Latvia. In 1981, Pendleton was convicted in a Michigan state court of fourth degree criminal contact. In that case, he molested an 11-year-old while he was serving as a church camp counselor.
In 1992, Pendleton was convicted in New Jersey state court of sexual assault, attempted aggravated sexual assault of a minor, and endangering the welfare of a child in a case involving sexual abuse of a 12-year-old boy on biking trips in Virginia and New Jersey. Pendleton received a seven-year sentence for that offense. The jury heard testimony from the now 32-year-old victim of that prior offense at the September 2009 trial for the sex tourism charge.
Approximately three years after his release from New Jersey prison, Pendleton was convicted in the Republic of Latvia of sexually abusing a 9-year-old child and a 13-year-old child between June and November 2001, and was sentenced to three and a half years in prison in a Latvian prison. He was released from prison and deported back to the United States on March 20, 2005. Just 14 months later, he traveled to Germany to commit the offense in this case.
He has been in federal custody since March 10, 2008, when the United States Marshals Service arrested him on the failure to register charge.
In sentencing the defendant, Chief U.S. District Judge Gregory M. Sleet relied heavily on the defendant's history of sexually abusing children. The court further cited Pendleton's failure to accept responsibility for his crimes and the fact that the defendant's past prison sentences had failed to deter him. He found the sentence would protect the children from "further acts of depravity" perpetrated by the defendant.
"Thomas Pendleton is a sexual predator who has a long history of abusing children entrusted to his care," said David C. Weiss, United States Attorney for the District of Delaware. "Recognizing that Pendleton poses an unacceptable risk to children, the court's sentence will ensure that he will be incarcerated or under federal supervision for the remainder of his life. This sentence will protect children here and abroad from sexual abuse by the defendant."
Assisting ICE on these cases was the United States Marshals Service. A computer forensic specialist from the High Tech Investigative Unit of the U.S. Department of Justice Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (CEOS) performed an analysis of a computer and other digital media seized from the defendant. The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Ilana Eisenstein of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Delaware and CEOS Trial Attorney Jennifer Toritto Leonardo.
This investigation was part of Operation Predator, a nationwide ICE initiative to identify, investigate and arrest those who prey on children, including human traffickers, international sex tourists, Internet pornographers, and foreign-national predators whose crimes make them deportable. Launched in July 2003, ICE agents have arrested almost 12,000 individuals through Operation Predator.
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.