By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Mae Sai, Thailand, has little to recommend it to most foreign tourists. The small teeming town along the Burmese border at Thailand's northernmost tip is built around an ugly main street and a nondescript river bridge. Much of the low-slung outpost is given over to a street market described in one guidebook as an "entrepôt for a bizarre diversity of goods," everything from tiger intestines and bear claws to bootleg Hello Kitty toys, fake PlayStations and tins of Jacob's Cream Crackers.
It isn't uncommon in Mae Sai to hear artillery fire in the lush hills beyond from border clashes and drug-related disputes, says one Dallas-based private investigator who visited last year. Beyond the town lies a region of teak forests, working elephants, serene mountain temples and, far less serene, the infamous Golden Triangle: the poppy fields that supply much of the world heroin trade. Ruby smuggling is reported to have its place here, too.
Although his intentions were bad and his need for secrecy extreme, drugs and jewels were not the temptations that drew Nicholas Bredimus to this exotic destination.
In early November 2001, the 53-year-old high-tech entrepreneur from suburban Coppell had flown from Dallas, to Tokyo, to Hong Kong and then on to Bangkok, where he was scheduled to meet with executives at Bangkok Airways and Thai Airways.
His company, Bredimus Systems Inc., was in the business of designing software to help airlines sell seats, reduce costs and manage revenues and at the time counted on its client list 40 airlines worldwide. Twenty years in the travel industry--in positions such as president of American Airlines' AMR Travel Services, vice president of American Express and founder of QuickTix, the first electronic ticketing network--had made Bredimus both worldly and wealthy, with a net worth well over seven figures.
The trim, balding executive had arrived in Bangkok two days before his scheduled meetings, time enough to hook up with Pensri Suhongsa, a Thai woman whose services Bredimus had hired before.
Bredimus, as it turned out, was one of the estimated 2 million foreign men who travel to Thailand each year because of its reputation as the carnal capital of the world, a place where sex for sale is so rampant that the most respected newspaper in the country publishes a weekly column on sex-trade news and gossip. Although technically illegal since 1960, prostitution in Thailand has deep historical roots, government and police corruption are rampant and the legal age of consent is 15.
Bredimus' fancies ran younger. And he knew just the place where his female pimp could satisfy his demand for a supply of young boys. Bredimus brought Pensri along as his interpreter and procurer. On November 3, he and Pensri checked into two rooms at an obscure hotel in Mae Sai and got to work.
"A lot of very, very poor child prostitutes come from Burma, which is just across the border," says Linda Groves, a federal prosecutor in Dallas. The surrounding area, Chiang Rai province, "isn't dirty and nasty like Bangkok. It is a beautiful place, and the people are beautiful. He picked the place, and his procurer-translator went with him."
By 6 o'clock that evening, Pensri and several local adults had brought six boys ages 11 to 14 up to Bredimus' rooms. Moving them in assembly-line fashion from an ersatz waiting room to his own, Bredimus molested three of them before a local police captain knocked on the door, then opened it with the manager's key. Police didn't need to ask questions to know what Bredimus had done. He'd recorded it all on a compact video camera he'd mounted on a tripod and a digital camera with which he took stills of the naked, aroused boys.
Oftentimes, social workers in Thailand say, children such as these are sold into prostitution by their parents, who act out of dire need and social customs that demand that children pay their way. The parents of Bredimus' victims, however, acted far differently in this case--or so say Thai police reports explaining how the luckless Bredimus came to be ensnared in a Thai police web that is usually filled with holes.
Thai police reported that "the parents of the male child victims filed a complaint...that their children were missing," according to a U.S. Customs report. That didn't include the parent of one child, who was upstairs in the hotel, waiting to get paid. With amazing efficiency, the Mae Sai police conducted an investigation and raided Bredimus' hotel room just as he finished molesting the third boy. When the police knocked on the door, Bredimus ordered the 14-year-old to escape through the second-story window. Down below, Thai police nabbed the teen with his fee--1,000 Baht, equal to about $22--still in his hand. They confiscated the American's cameras, memory sticks, videotapes and a laptop computer. They returned the computer, unsearched, when they failed to crack the password.
Bredimus' arrest in Thailand set off a fascinating and singularly unprecedented prosecution 9,000 miles away in Dallas, where he became one of only three men ever to be charged under an obscure 1994 law making it illegal for U.S. citizens to travel abroad to have sex with minors.