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August 12, 2021Los Angeles, CA, United StatesChild Exploitation

Ex-marine again convicted of using drugs and force to sexually abuse young girls in Cambodia following HSI probe

LOS ANGELES — At the end of a re-trial prompted by appellate court reversal, a federal jury today convicted a retired Marine Corps captain who traveled to Cambodia in 2005 for the purpose of engaging in illicit sexual conduct with minors.

Michael Joseph Pepe, 67, a former resident of Oxnard who has been in federal custody since 2007, was found guilty of four felony offenses – two counts of traveling in foreign commerce with the intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct and two counts of aggravated sexual abuse of a child.

The case is the result of an extensive investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Los Angeles and the Cambodian National Police.

U.S. District Judge Dale S. Fischer is scheduled to sentence Pepe on December 6, at which time he will face a statutory maximum sentence of life in federal prison. The two counts of aggravated sexual abuse of a child each carry mandatory minimum sentences of 30 years in prison.

During the seven-day trial, jurors heard testimony from eight minor victims who were as young as 9 when they were sexually abused. Each of the victims testified that Pepe sexually abused them, and several explained that Pepe drugged, bound, beat and raped them.

Evidence was presented corroborating the victims’ testimony, including homemade child pornography.

Pepe was initially charged in this case in 2006. After being brought to the United States in early 2007, he was subsequently tried, convicted and sentenced to prison. The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the conviction in 2018, and prosecutors decided to retry the defendant.

HSI special agents in Bangkok and Phnom Penh provided substantial assistance in the investigation against Pepe.

The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California’s Violent and Organized Crime Section and General Crimes Section.

HSI is a directorate of ICE and the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel and finance move.

HSI’s workforce of over 10,400 employees consists of more than 7,100 Special Agents assigned to 220 cities throughout the United States, and 80 overseas locations in 53 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’s largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.