Michael Joseph Pepe, former US Marine Corps captain, was found guilty of drugging and raping multiple Cambodian children as young as 9 years old last Monday, facing over 210 years in federal prison. His crimes of raping children started during his trip to Phnom Penh in 2005.

The Marine Corps veteran, who had traveled to Cambodia originally as a civilian university teacher in Cambodia’s Phnom Penh, was originally arrested in the Asian country in 2006 and was subsequently extradited to the United States, where his cases were heard in courts from 2007 till today. By 2008, he had been convicted of 7 felony counts and has been under the custody of the Department of Justice ever since.

Cambodian police had started investigating Michael Pepe when one of his rape victims come forward in the capital, and the government informed the US authorities. It was discovered that Pepe had allegedly hired prostitutes to buy children from their respective families. He then proceeded to sexually assault them, taking explicit photographs of children naked and drugging them with sedatives so he could freely rape them. These sex crimes occurred from 2005 to 2006, with the illegal photographs being discovered in 2006 by a police raid on his Cambodian home.

However, he could not be immediately sentenced in 2008. Issues had surfaced during the trial when the lead investigator ICE Special Agent Gary J. Phillips, had been discovered to have a sexual relationship with Vietnamese interpreter Ann Luong Spiratos who spoke and translated on behalf of the Cambodian girls. This led Pepe’s defense to take advantage of the situation and argue that the relationship had tainted the testimony of the girls. It was this issue that delayed his sentencing. After an assessment, a judge found that the sexual relationship was inappropriate and could’ve contributed to the interpreter skewing the girls’ testimonies. Thus, the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the guilty conviction in 2018, and Pepe was re-tried.

“This defendant abused and exploited young people in a distant land who had no means to escape and no way to fight back. It’s entirely fitting that Mr. Pepe will spend the rest of his life behind bars since his victims will likely bear the emotional scars of his abuse for the remainder of theirs,” said the US Department of Homeland Security’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI)  Special Agent Claude Arnold in 2014.

After another trial, he was eventually found guilty last August 2021 of two counts of traveling to a foreign country with the intent to engage in sexually illicit conduct, as well as two counts of aggravated sexual abuse of a child. On Monday, Michael Joseph Pepe was sentenced last by US District Court for Califonia’s Central District’s Judge Dale S. Fischer, now facing 210 years in prison. Pepe also owes $247,000 in restitution.

Eight victims came forward during his trial. They testified that Pepe had trapped them on several occasions, tying them up, beating them so that they could not fight back, drugged them, and proceeded to rape the Cambodian children and made child pornography as well.

The US judge stated that what Pepe had done was monstrous, with the effects of the abuse haunting the children for years to come. “No justification for a sentence that would ever allow (Pepe) to be released from prison,” said the judge after sentencing. He equated Pepe’s action with being extreme torture and abuse of children.