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American strikes plea deal

American strikes plea deal

Michael Dodd, an American citizen who once worked as an English teacher in Phnom Penh, was sentenced to nearly nine years in prison by a United States district court in Los Angeles on Monday for having sex with a 14-year-old Cambodian girl, dodging a harsher sentence through a plea deal with prosecutors.

Dodd, 61, admitted to sexually abusing the 14-year-old girl over an eight-month period in 2008, during which he paid her impoverished family US$100 each month for private visits. The presiding judge called it one of the “most disgusting cases” he has ever heard.

Samleang Seila, country director for Action Pour les Enfants, said the sentence showed that the US “strictly and correctly applies the law against US child sexual predators”.

“[Dodd] pleaded guilty because he knew the evidence against him was strong and sufficient and that he could never buy his way out there,” he said.

But US District Judge John F Walter expressed reluctance to approve the 104-month prison term sought by prosecutors under a plea deal with Dodd, indicating he thought the sentence was too lenient.

“I may live to regret this,” the judge said, adding that he had no doubt that when Dodd is released from prison, “he’s going to do this again”.

Dodd previously served more than four years in prison in the US Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, where he was convicted in 2002 of inappropriately touching underage girls. Dodd was working at an elementary school at the time.

The maximum possible sentence of 30 years would have required a jury conviction, and the victim would have been expected to travel to the US to testify. Walter said he was unwilling to force her to suffer that ordeal.

But the victim had in fact travelled to the US prepared to testify, Samleang Seila said, with the support of APLE and another Cambodian NGO.

“It is really stressful and traumatising for child victims of sexual abuse to travel to testify in the US court, but in this case the victim was willing to and has already arrived in the US to testify, whereas [Dodd] took the plea,” Samleang Seila said.

He described Dodd as a “repeat offender” who deserved a harsher sentence and strict supervision.

Dodd arrived in Phnom Penh in 2007. He was arrested by Cambodian police in 2008 and later sentenced to 10 years in prison by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court for having sex with two girls under the age of 15, said Bith Kimhong, chief of the anti-human-trafficking and juvenile protection department at the Ministry of Interior. Dodd served 16 months in Cambodia.

In February, FBI agents escorted Dodd back to the US. The US PROTECT Act allows American citizens to be prosecuted in US courts for sex crimes abroad. Bith Kimhong said he thought the sentence was “appropriate”.

US Embassy spokesman Mark Wenig said privacy laws prohibited the embassy from commenting on specific cases, but that it “aggressively enforce[s]” the PROTECT Act. He said the embassy was pleased with Cambodia’s recent progress in combating human trafficking.

“Each arrest, successful prosecution and serious sentencing helps send the message that Cambodia will not be a haven for people who prey on children,” he said. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY REUTERS