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Published: Saturday, 3/1/2014

Former US Marine gets 210 years in prison for sex acts with children in Cambodia


LOS ANGELES — A federal judge has sentenced a former U.S. Marine captain to 210 years in prison for performing sex acts with young girls in Cambodia.

The Los Angeles Times reports that U.S. District Judge Dale Fischer handed down the maximum sentence to 60-year-old Michael Joseph Pepe on Friday after six years and a lengthy legal battle.

The judge called the acts unspeakable and heinous, and she said she wanted to send a message to Americans considering traveling abroad to have sex with children.

“Monstrous does not begin to describe the crime,” Fischer said.

Pepe was convicted of sex acts with seven girls between the ages of 9 and 12. Six of the girls traveled to Los Angeles to testify in 2008.

Pepe had been working as a civilian teacher in the country. Speaking through an interpreter, the girls described how he’d drugged, blindfolded, gagged, bound, beat, raped and forced oral sex on them repeatedly.

Though jurors ruled against Pepe, the conviction was imperiled when prosecutors informed the judge that the lead investigator had been involved in a sexual relationship with a Vietnamese interpreter who translated for some of the girls. The defense said the relationship between Immigration and Customs Enforcement Special Agent Gary J. Phillips and the interpreter tainted the girls’ testimony.

Fischer ruled last month that minor interpretation errors were caused by imprecision rather than bias and denied the defense’s request for a new trial. She said the relationship showed “egregious misconduct” and didn’t condone it, but refused to throw out the verdict, “especially given the voluminous evidence of Pepe’s guilt.”

Pepe showed little reaction to Fischer’s remarks Friday. His attorney noted Pepe’s mental health problems and said Pepe, a married father of three with grandchildren, regretted his actions.

The judge disagreed, saying “he has absolutely no remorse” and had pretended to be helping children.

Pepe was ordered to pay $247,000 in restitution to victims. The money will go to anti-trafficking groups that are providing the girls with physical and psychiatric treatment.

Pepe’s attorney asked that his client be housed in federal lockup for sex offenders so that he can receive treatment and for his own protection.

Fischer said she’d make the recommendation to the federal Bureau of Prisons.

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