New U.S. law puts Md. man in court as `sex tourist'

Extradited from Asia by Homeland Security

February 20, 2004|By Lynn Anderson and Michael James | Lynn Anderson and Michael James,SUN STAFF

A former Roland Park man accused of molesting children in Cambodia and the Philippines will appear today in federal court in Baltimore to face charges under a new U.S. law that allows Homeland Security agents to pursue child "sex tourists" overseas and return them for trial.

Richard Arthur Schmidt, 61, a one-time teacher described in federal documents as a computer-savvy child stalker, was extradited from Southeast Asia yesterday and faces prosecution in Maryland under the U.S. Protect Act.

If convicted, he would face a U.S. prison sentence for a Cambodian crime.

"Cambodia is about as far away from Baltimore as you can get, but no matter how far away you go, we'll catch up to you," said Allen Doody, special agent in charge of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Baltimore, a division of Homeland Security. "If we can get you in Cambodia, we can get you anywhere."

Before the Protect Act, which was signed by President Bush on April 30, U.S. authorities had to prove that an international predator ventured into another country with the intent to harm or molest a minor.

The new law waives the intent requirement; a pedophile can now be prosecuted on U.S. soil if it can be proved that he or she had attempted to have sex with a child in another country.

In Schmidt's case, two U.S. agents were dispatched to Cambodia to work with local police who observed the tall, lanky American socializing with children. The agents reviewed evidence found in Schmidt's apartment in the Cambodian city of Phnom Penh, including a digital camera, Sony PlayStation, baseball gloves and children's clothing.

The agents were present Dec. 27 when Schmidt was arrested after he and a 12-year-old boy were found alone in a riverside guesthouse, according to a federal affidavit in the case. The boy later told agents that Schmidt asked him to take a shower and then lay on top of him, the affidavit said.

Doody said the recent crackdown on overseas child sex is part of "Operation Predator," being carried out by a team of U.S. investigators stationed in more than 30 countries. Teams of federal agents are typically dispatched to countries considered prime targets for globetrotting sexual predators, or "sex tourists" -- a term used by law enforcement officials.

"Many of these countries are underdeveloped and poor, with infrastructures that aren't as robust as the U.S.," Doody said. "Pedophiles who prey on children know this, and they travel to these countries to take advantage."

The U.S. investigators overseas stay in close contact with their foreign law enforcement counterparts and work together to develop information on potential child predator suspects, Doody said.

Undercover agents in the United States also scour the Internet, looking for predators who are about to embark on international trips to find children, he said. It's a cat-and-mouse game between the investigators and the pedophiles, who tend to be well-educated, computer literate and alert to the fact that investigators are looking for them.

"Most of these folks are very careful," Doody said. "They're out there in message groups and chat rooms, but they encrypt their communications and speak in code. So they're not always easy to track."

Schmidt used a software program called the "Evidence-Eliminator" to try to cover his tracks, the affidavit said.

The Maryland man -- who once lived in one of Baltimore's most desirable neighborhoods -- arrived in Cambodia in November or December, according to federal documents, and quickly made friends with several local children, some of whom worked as shoeshine boys.

About Dec. 16, Schmidt invited two brothers to his apartment to play video games and learn English, said agents who interviewed the boys, ages 10 and 13. The boys said the man they called "Rick" gave them money, watermelon, shoes and a yo-yo.

Another boy, age 13, whose sister introduced him to the white-haired Schmidt, said he also played video games at Schmidt's apartment. Sometimes, his sister came with him, the boy said, but the older man paid little attention to her.

The last boy Schmidt encountered in Cambodia was the one he took to the guesthouse.

Documents found in his Cambodia apartment show that Schmidt was also accused of lewd acts with at least two boys while he was living in the Philippines.

Schmidt has been tried and convicted of sex crimes in Maryland.

In 1987, he was sentenced to 18 years in prison after he was convicted of sexual assault and sexual offenses involving a 12-year-old boy, according to federal documents. Schmidt served 13 years and was released on parole in 2000.

He was first arrested in 1984 for fondling and simple assault against children. A year later, he was arrested on charges including assault, child abuse and rape. In 1986, Schmidt was arrested on charges including perverted practices, strong-arm assault and child abuse.

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