US paedophile, convicted of crimes in Cambodia and jailed for 210 years, denied review of case in US Supreme Court

Image from Khmer Times.

PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times): A US citizen, who was previously sentenced to serve 210 years in prison for the rape, torture and molestation of underage girls in Phnom Penh, has had his petition for a review of the case denied by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Michael J. Pepe, 68, was sentenced to 210 years in prison by a Los Angeles judge in 2022.

The Long Beach Post reports that in the Supreme Court petition, Pepe’s lawyers claimed that even if Pepe intended to molest children when he returned to Cambodia, these were “innocent round trips” under a 1944 case, Mortensen v. United States.

In the petition filed in January, Pepe, now 70, did not deny the U.S. government’s allegations.

Instead, reports the Long Beach Post, Pepe’s attorneys argued that the government’s jurisdictional “hook” for filing federal charges against their client was fatally flawed.

The Court issued a summary denial without stating the reasons for its decision.

Pepe, a former US Marine Corps captain, retired to Phnom Penh in 2003 and began teaching management classes at a Cambodian university.

In 2005-06, at least eight preadolescent girls were dropped off at Pepe’s villa in the Toul Kork district by their mothers or by a prostitute who acted as procurer.

Most of the victims hailed from the slums of Svay Pak, a Cambodian village once notorious as a hotbed of child prostitution.

Pepe styled himself a philanthropist who distributed school supplies while snapping photos of the children with his Minolta digital camera.

But in dozens of photos taken with the same camera, underage girls could be seen striking provocative poses inside Pepe’s bedroom.

The digital photos surfaced after Cambodian National Police arrested Pepe in June 2006 and seized his desktop computer.

US government forensics experts later recovered deleted photos showing Pepe naked with a 12-year-old victim.

After his 2006 arrest, Pepe spent eight months inside Cambodia’s Prey Sar prison.

In 2007, the Cambodian government handed Pepe over to agents from ICE, and the former professor was flown to L.A. to face federal charges.

In 2008, a jury found Pepe guilty under a federal law prohibiting any U.S. citizen who “travels in foreign commerce” from committing illicit sexual conduct with a minor.

But in 2018, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed Pepe’s conviction, reasoning that because he lived in Cambodia, he wasn’t engaged in “travels” when he molested the little girls.

The government responded by indicting Pepe on charges requiring proof he left the U.S. and traveled to Cambodia with intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct.

At trial in August 2021, the government focused on a trip Pepe took to the U.S. in May 2005 to attend his son Jason’s high school graduation, and another trip three months later to attend his daughter Andrea’s wedding.

The government alleged Pepe’s intent could be inferred from his rape and abuse of the little girls soon after returning, as evidenced by metadata embedded in his digital photos.

Assistant US. Attorney Demaris Diaz told the jury, “So how do you know what Michael Pepe intended to do in Cambodia? Just look at what he did.”

The jury convicted Pepe on all four counts in the indictment, leading to a 210-year sentence.

Pepe is serving his 210-year sentence in the sex crimes case at a maximum-security federal penitentiary in Tucson, Arizona. - Khmer Times

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