LOS ANGELES – A retired Marine Corps captain who was convicted of drugging and sexually abusing girls in Cambodia was sentenced Friday to 210 years in federal prison.
Michael Joseph Pepe, 60, of Oxnard, was convicted by a jury in May 2008 of seven felony counts for traveling to Cambodia to engage in illicit sexual conduct with minors, following a probe by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
Pepe was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Dale S. Fischer, who also ordered the defendant to pay $247,000 in restitution to his victims.
At Friday’s sentencing hearing, Fischer said what is essentially a life sentence is appropriate for a defendant who has shown no remorse for his crime. "Monstrous does not begin to capture the horror of the crime or the impact on the victims," Judge Fischer said.
During the trial, prosecutors presented testimony from six of the seven girls Pepe sexually abused. The girls, who were between the ages of 9 and 13 at the time of the abuse, testified that Pepe drugged, bound, beat and raped them. Several victims testified that Pepe required them to give him sexual massages and perform oral sex on him on a daily basis.
"Predators cannot hide in foreign nations to conceal their deviant sexual desires," said U.S. Attorney André Birotte Jr. "Our efforts to coordinate with law enforcement around the world have resulted in the identification and prosecution of Americans who are exploiting the children in other countries. This lengthy sentence should serve as a stern warning to other pedophiles."
In addition to the victims’ testimony, prosecutors presented corroborating evidence seized by the Cambodian National Police from Pepe’s Phnom Penh residence, including rope and cloth strips used to restrain the victims, Rohypnol and other sedatives, and homemade child pornography.
"This sentence should serve as a sobering warning to every sexual predator who thinks they can hide from the law by violating the innocence of children overseas," said Claude Arnold, special agent in charge of HSI Los Angeles. "This defendant abused and exploited young people in a distant land who had no means to escape and no way to fight back. It’s entirely fitting that Mr. Pepe will spend the rest of his life behind bars, since his victims will likely bear the emotional scars of his abuse for the remainder of theirs."
The prostitute who acted as Pepe’s broker testified on videotape about bringing young victims to his residence. Pepe paid the broker and the victims’ families for unlimited access to the girls.
"This sentence clearly demonstrates to the Cambodian people that the United States will not tolerate this type of abuse," said the U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia William E. Todd. "This sentence not only signals to the Cambodian victims our commitment to justice, but it will also act as a powerful deterrent for those individuals who are contemplating traveling to Cambodia to engage in illegal sexual activity with minors."
HSI received substantial assistance in the investigation from the Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service and the Cambodian National Police.
Pepe was prosecuted under the provisions of the PROTECT Act, which took effect in 2003. The act substantially strengthened federal laws against predatory crimes involving children outside the United States by adding new crimes and increasing sentences.