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Thread: FBI sting targets 'sex tourists' but raises legal questions

  1. #1

    Arrow FBI sting targets 'sex tourists' but raises legal questions

    FBI sting targets 'sex tourists' but raises legal questions

    But arrests raise legal questions

    BY VANESSA BLUM

    South Florida Sun-Sentinel

    March 16, 2008

    For a down payment of $1,675, Jorge Muentes thought he had booked a package trip to Costa Rica, complete with airfare, hotel accommodations and 24 hours with a teen prostitute, according to federal prosecutors.

    But the underground travel agency promising to fulfill "all his personal desires" was secretly run by the FBI.

    When Muentes attempted to board his flight from Miami International Airport to San Jose on Nov. 15, federal authorities arrested the 48-year-old West Palm Beach father for trying to arrange sex with a minor overseas.

    Muentes' case, which goes to trial Monday in Fort Lauderdale, comes in the midst of a federal crackdown on so-called sex tourists who molest children outside the United States. Since 2003, U.S. authorities have charged more than 70 alleged offenders, often arresting suspects abroad or as they step off flights from countries like Cambodia, Thailand, the Philippines and Costa Rica.

    Those convicted in the past year include a Miami Beach businessman who paid teenage girls for sex in Cambodia and a retired St. Petersburg truck driver who sexually abused victims from 7 to 15 years old on a trip through Southeast Asia. Both men returned with pornographic images documenting sexual encounters with multiple underage victims.

    But Muentes' case is different. It is, in law enforcement parlance, "proactive," meaning would-be offenders are apprehended before they strike. That strategy has drawn criticism from defense lawyers who say the tactic amounts to entrapment and punishes what might be no more than a fantasy.

    Muentes' attorney, David O. Markus, wrote in a brief that the charges against his client constitute police action against "a person's mere thought to do something abroad."

    "I'm all for catching child predators," Markus said. "The problem is instead of netting the real criminals, this sting draws in innocent people like Jorge Muentes."

    In a court filing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Rashbaum defended the charges, saying Muentes took concrete steps toward having sexual contact with a teenager by paying for the trip and attempting to board a plane.

    "The defendant's actions constitute far more than mere thought," Rashbaum wrote.

    Law enforcement officials declined to discuss the sting, saying they did not want to compromise ongoing investigations.

    Muentes has been married for 17 years and has a 19-year-old son from a previous marriage. Before his arrest, Muentes made a living performing household chores such as cooking and driving for South Florida families, his lawyer said.

    According to court records, Muentes called the FBI's undercover travel agency in September 2007 after seeing an advertisement in an adult magazine offering all-inclusive vacations with "clean, fun-loving companions of varying ages." The company supposedly is based in Fort Lauderdale.

    Once Muentes made contact, the FBI agent called him repeatedly, up to three times in a single day, until he finalized his trip.

    Prosecutors contend Muentes asked for dates with two female escorts, a 14- to 16-year-old as well as a 21-to 24-year-old. Upon his arrival in San Jose, he was to meet a man named "Jorge" and choose the women from a photo album.

    Markus contends that even if Muentes considered having sex with a teenager, there is no evidence he would have acted on those desires once in Costa Rica. Having sex with a woman 18 or older, even paid sex, would not have been a crime because adult prostitution is legal in Costa Rica.

    Muentes has no criminal record or history of abusing children, Markus said. If convicted, he faces a mandatory 10-year sentence.

    The sex-tour sting has been in play for years and has snared more than a dozen men, including a Vietnam War veteran from New York whose case is also set for trial in Fort Lauderdale later this month.

    The fake travel agency has operated under different names, including Costa Rica Taboo Vacations. Its current Web site offers "an all inclusive travel service that is truly all inclusive" and asks visitors to specify a preferred age, starting at 12 and under.

    It might once have been that what tourists did overseas fell beyond the reach of U.S. law enforcement. But that is no longer the case, federal officials emphasized.

    "Predators who think that they can evade the reach of U.S. laws by traveling abroad to sexually exploit children are sorely mistaken," said Anthony Mangione, special agent-in-charge of the Miami office of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. "We will use every resource at our disposal to track them down."

    The recent surge in sex tourism cases can be traced to a tough measure passed by Congress in 2003 that increased penalties for child sex offenders and closed a loophole that frequently had blocked prosecutors from going after Americans for sex crimes committed on foreign soil.

    Some defense lawyers and civil-liberties advocates question whether the government is overreaching by prosecuting U.S. citizens for their actions abroad, especially if they do not break the laws of a foreign country. However, the cases are holding up in court, and prosecutors have a near perfect conviction rate.

    Drew Oosterbaan, chief of the Justice Department's Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, said it makes sense to take such crimes seriously.

    "These are pedophiles or sexual predators who go overseas and do horrible things to kids, and then they're coming back to your community," Oosterbaan said. "Psychologists will tell you this is a sexual predilection that doesn't go away."

    Even with the new law, however, sex tourism cases can be challenging and expensive to pursue. In the time it takes to build a case, victims disappear, witnesses balk at testifying and evidence collected by foreign governments may not be handled according to U.S. standards.

    In contrast, sting operations that intercept men before they board a plane are cheap and easy to prosecute. The cases rely almost entirely on suspects' own statements to undercover FBI agents during recorded phone calls.

    Joseph Mettimano, advocacy director of the international child welfare group World Vision, said he hopes those arrests serve to deter others.

    His group runs a multimillion-dollar media campaign warning travelers that having sex with minors abroad can result in jail time back home.

    "Americans aren't getting away with impunity on this anymore," Mettimano said. "The threat of prosecution and imprisonment is very real."

    Vanessa Blum can be reached at vbblum@sun-sentinel.com or 954-356-4605.

    Copyright © 2008, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
    "There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it."
    - Oscar Wilde

  2. #2
    Quote Originally Posted by CaptRenault
    I can only imagine how many man hours the FBI must have devoted to cases like this--a lot, I bet. It must require a small, fulltime army of agents to set up these fake companies, place ads and monitor men who fall into their traps. The knowledge that the FBI is spending precious law enforcement resources on such cases must be rather reassuring to the Islamic terrorists, spies, white collar criminals, bank robbers and others who have committed or are planning to commit real crimes falling under federal jurisdiction.
    CR,

    Millions of US homeowners are facing foreclosures while the Fed dishes out billions to bail out Bear Stearns, giving new meaning to the term corporate welfare. The robber barons are all working on Wall Street, profiting off other people's misery. The irony is that we need more Spitzers in this world and less sleazy politicians cozying up to lobbyists.

    But I still applaud the FBI for taking a bite out of this disgusting "tourism" that exploits children in poor developing nations. They should post their pics on the FBI website just to shame them.

    GG
    "There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it."
    - Oscar Wilde

  3. #3
    I would have found this sting revolting were it not that the purported SP was a minor. I applaud any LE efforts that result in the arrest of people trying to have sex with minors.

  4. #4

    Angry Pedophiles

    Quote Originally Posted by CaptRenault
    I can only imagine how many man hours the FBI must have devoted to cases like this--a lot, I bet. It must require a small, fulltime army of agents to set up these fake companies, place ads and monitor men who fall into their traps. The knowledge that the FBI is spending precious law enforcement resources on such cases must be rather reassuring to the Islamic terrorists, spies, white collar criminals, bank robbers and others who have committed or are planning to commit real crimes falling under federal jurisdiction.
    Having seen how pedophiles can destroy positive youth oriented organizations and young lives my only comment would be that the money and time was very well spent.

    If pedophilia is not a "real crime" then I would like to know what is?
    LISA'S FRIEND

  5. #5
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    Some of the posts in this thread are very poorly informed and/or misleading. The FBI has been actively setting up child porn/pedophile stings since the 1990s when AOL chat rooms started being used by pedophiles to pray upon children. Katherine Tarbox was a victim of a pedophile who was pinched in an FBI sting. She went on to graduate from the U of Pennsylvania and has written the bestselling books "Katie.com" and "A Girl's Life Online." I read "A Girl's Life Online" which details how the pedophile gained her trust, how he victimized her and her testimony in what became the 1st such prosecution involving the FBI back in the 1990s.

    Instead of posting silly (and inaccurate) speculation about what the FBI does and how the FBI operates and what their agenda is, I would suggest you all read these books and inform and educate yourselves. Virtually every library in the USA has requested copies of these books and virtually every mother of a teenage girl that I know is aware of Tarbox's books.

    The FBI generally has zero interest in guys paying for escorts over 18 years old unless they are investigating another crime, and happen to come across it as was the case with Spitzer. IT IS NOT AN AGENDA of the FBI, period. If anyone ever gets Spitzered by the FBI it's because another crime is being investigated (in Spitzer's case, suspected bribery/money laundering).

    And by the ways pedophiles using these chatrooms usually operate interstate as you will learn if you bother to read Tarbox's books.
    Last edited by EagerBeaver; 03-19-2008 at 09:53 AM.

  6. #6
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    People reading this board will probably agree with me that sexual acts between consenting adults should be out of the reach of the law. As long as there is no coersion, and no physical harm done folks should be allowed to screw each other any way they like, with or without a cash payment - period!

    However, you have to draw the line somewhere, and you can only justify the preceding position if you strongly oppose the involvement of minors in any of these activities. I'm not really comfortable with the "barely legal" arguments either. Trying to have sex with an 18 year old who looks 14 is sleazy at best.

    Those who lobby hard for decriminalization of the sex trade should be very clear about their positions on child prostitution - in any country!

    sinbad.

  7. #7

    Smile Agenda / Technology

    Quote Originally Posted by Equanimity
    I guess the point is that if the mechanism is there and allowed by the courst how confident are you that the FBI's agenda will remain the same ?

    I'm sure their agenda has changed from 20 years ago vis a vis sex crimes and it's bound to change again.
    The mandate of the FBI and other law enforcement agencies has remained very constant. Pedophiles have adapted the internet to their interests and the various law enforcement agencies have re-acted accordingly.

    As illustrated in the post by EB - a pedophile can access a child in the safety of the child's home.Twenty years ago this was somewhat unthinkable.

    Looking forward if the law enforcement agencies have to adapt - so be it.
    LISA'S FRIEND

  8. #8
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    Equanimity,

    The Mann Act has only been sporadically enforced in the last 100 years, almost not at all in the last 40 years, and usually only in high profile cases, like Spitzer's, where there has been an investigation of a public figure for other reasons and the FBI stumbled onto the Mann Act violation. Former Heavyweight Champion Jack Johnson and legendary actor Charlie Chaplin were both prosecuted under the Mann Act, and in both cases the government had other issues with these men, having nothing to do with prostitution. In the case of Johnson, who was convicted, he was a black celebrity athlete with a highly public affection for white women at a time in US history when interracial relationships and interracial sex was viewed as strictly taboo. In the case of Chaplin, who was acquitted, his real "crime" that warranted an FBI investigation was that he was a communist sympathizer politically, and he ultimately left the USA for Europe during the McCarthy years. I can go on and on, but the point is there is no agenda to enforce the Mann Act, the feds stumbled onto the alleged violations while investigating other things.

    For that matter, there never was nor is any FBI agenda to enforce any laws relating to engaging prostitutes over the age of 18. Unfortunately due to the extremely unusual circumstances of the Spitzer case and people not paying attention to the facts a lot of paranoia is now in the air. Spitzer is facing a possible prosecution because he stupidly made wire transfers with his name on it, and apparently at the agency's request which did not know that Client #9 was Spitzer. Spitzer panicked and asked his bank to take his name off the transfers and whammo, they investigate him for money laundering bribes because that's why they thought he made the transfers and wanted his name off. They found out he was involved in another illegal activity and then the Mann Act got invoked. If you trace the history of the Mann Act you will find that virtually all of these prosecutions started the same way, basically as a violation accidentally uncovered that fell into the FBI's lap during the course of a completely different investigation.

    Child prostitution/pedophiles/child porn cases have been actively investigated by the FBI from the inception of the Internet, as noted by Eastender. The case mentioned by GG to start this thread was a sting designed to pinch pedophiles, not sexual tourists desirous of adult prostitutes in Costa Rica. I also think that the guy they arrested was a moron. I never would have done business with any company called "Costa Rica Taboo", it almost sounds like one of the Nigerian scams.
    Last edited by EagerBeaver; 03-19-2008 at 05:57 PM.

  9. #9
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    Maxima,

    I don't think it is very helpful to post nonsense unless you are now one of the the people who believe that the Boards exist to be receptacles of nonsense. Apparently, judging from what I have seen lately, more and more people including you subscribe to this theory.

    Nobody in Connecticut has legal jurisdiction over anything that happens in Montreal. That should be obvious to anyone who has even a slight knowledge of the law.

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by EagerBeaver
    The case mentioned by GG to start this thread was a sting designed to pinch pedophiles, not sexual tourists desirous of adult prostitutes in Costa Rica. I also think that the guy they arrested was a moron. I never would have done business with any company called "Costa Rica Taboo", it almost sounds like one of the Nigerian scams.
    EB,

    I agree with you, the FBI can't prosecute you for intent of having sex with a prostitute of legal age under Canadian or Costa Rican law. The guy they arrested here is a pedophile with clear intentions to sleep with children. Regardless of whether or not he's a moron, I am glad they caught him and I hope they successfully prosecute this dangerous scumbag.

    GG
    Last edited by General Gonad; 03-19-2008 at 07:04 PM.
    "There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it."
    - Oscar Wilde

  11. #11
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    Maxima,

    The US citizens being prosecuted for going to Thailand are serial international child molesters. There is a cooperative effort now among LE agencies internationally called INTERPOL, re: child molesters who operate abroad. This is how they arrested that Canadian teacher. Nobody who goes to Montreal for sex with adults has anything to worry about.
    Last edited by EagerBeaver; 03-19-2008 at 07:14 PM.

  12. #12
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    Christopher Neil

    Was arrested by Royal Thai Police, not RCMP:

    http://www.interpol.int/Public/THB/vico/Default.asp

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by Maxima
    The FBI can prosecute American citizens if there are enough proof that they engaged in underage sex in foreign soil, can they not?
    It depends, Royal Thai police may have jurisdiction, see the Neil case.

  14. #14

    Talking

    Quote Originally Posted by EagerBeaver
    Nobody who goes to Montreal for sex with adults has anything to worry about.
    Of course not. They should worry more about getting screwed by some con. Can you imagine the court case? Here is a sample transcript:

    Judge: ``Uuuummmm, Mr. Eager Beaver please``
    EB: ``Yes, that`s me``
    Judge: ``Mr. EB, can you tell me why you keep coming to Montreal to meet hookers?``
    EB: ``TCIM``
    Judge: ``BB what?``
    EB: ``Judge may I approach the bench?``
    Judge: ``Yes, you may approach``

    EB approaches the bench and quietly whispers something into the older man`s ear. Then he goes back to his place.

    Judge: ``Case dismissed!`` ``Mr. EB please come to my chambers``

    EB goes back to the chambers.

    Judge: ``I am interested to learn more about Merb``
    Last edited by General Gonad; 03-19-2008 at 07:23 PM.
    "There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it."
    - Oscar Wilde

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by Maxima
    Let's say that a US citizen was arrested by Montreal Police for paying an under-age SP for sex (that under-age SP was advertised by the agency to be 18-19 yo). Would he run the risk to be prosecuted in the US?
    Probably not since the FBI only gives a shit about serial child molesters and the scenario you outline doesn't involve one. And it also doesn't involve a transaction whose inception occurred on US soil as with the cases you allude to.
    Last edited by EagerBeaver; 03-19-2008 at 07:26 PM.

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