Michael Pepe | Los Angeles — A former U.S. Marine captain whose last known address in the United States was in Southern California was sentenced Monday to 210 years in federal prison for traveling to Phnom Penh, Cambodia for the purpose of assaulting children.
Eight women from Southeast Asia testified last year that Michael Pepe, who was working as a teacher in Cambodia at the time, had drugged, bound, beaten and raped them in his Phnom Penh compound.
An investigation began when a girl reported to Cambodian police that she and several other children had been abused by Pepe. During a search of the Phnom Penh villa, police found three girls, ages 9, 10 and 11, as well as hundreds of pornographic images, various drugs, children’s clothes and rope and cloth strips, which the children said Pepe used to bind and gag them.
Pepe was convicted in August of two federal counts each of travel with the intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct and crossing state lines with the intent to engage in sexual acts with a person under the age of 12, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Pepe was extradited to the United States in 2007.
“Monstrous does not begin to capture the horror of the crime or the impact on the victims,” U.S. District Judge Dale Fischer said in February 2014 as she sentenced Pepe to 210 years in federal prison, a 30-year stretch for each of the seven girls.
Pepe, 68, was prosecuted under a federal law making it a crime for Americans to molest or pay for sex with children while traveling abroad. He was sentenced eight years ago to life in prison after he was found guilty of the traveling charge and committing illegal sex acts with girls age 9 to 13 in Cambodia — but the trial results were overturned on appeal in 2018.
Pepe maintained that he relocated to Cambodia permanently, worked as an English teacher and bought a home there in March 2003.
Federal prosecutors countered that Pepe traveled outside of Cambodia and then returned there — via Los Angeles — not because it was his home, but because poor Asian children were easily available to him there.
The Los Angeles federal jury heard evidence that in the slums of Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital, poverty-stricken parents sold their children to Pepe for $30 a month.
Pepe was working part-time as a teacher when he was arrested by the Cambodian National Police in June 2006.
In a brief statement that day, Pepe said he had spent 20 years in the Marines and suffered from brain damage and “psychotic effects” from withdrawal from psychiatric medication.
As for the victims, Pepe said “[To] the girls, if you believe that I have harmed you. I … wish you good luck in the future.”
Until his conviction was reversed and he was brought to the downtown federal lockup to await a retrial, Pepe was incarcerated in a maximum security prison in Tucson, Arizona.
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