By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
About a month before Bredimus' September 9 trial was to begin, Mills says he learned the government was deep into its obstruction investigation, and they had succeeded in clearing all the diplomatic and procedural hurdles to bring witnesses from Thailand. "I started talking to the prosecutor about a plea," he says.
Groves says eight people were set to come to Dallas to make the case against Bredimus: the three victims, a chaperone, Pensri and three Thai police officers. At $6,000 each for airfare, plus hotels and meals during what promised to be a long trial made longer by Thai translators, "it was going to be costly," she says. She'd also lined up experts to knock down the notion that the molester on the videotape was under the influence of some mysterious drug. Taken together, the witnesses were expected to establish the necessary chain of custody for the videotape, which was kept in a secure area by Thai police.
The digital camera, however, was another story. It contained pictures, in sequence, of the suspect with his family in Southern California, naked boys, then a few shots suggesting the camera was rather loosely handled at the Mae Sai police station. At one point after Bredimus' arrest, the Thai cops took it out and shot a few pictures of a drug bust. "There was a bus...and a little picture that appears as if they had interdicted a load," U.S. Customs Special Agent Gerard Cote said.
Mills' client faced a maximum prison sentence of 15 years, but the lawyer had room to deal. Bredimus could agree, as he did, to give truthful testimony about "any conspiracy to obstruct justice or tamper with government witnesses." In return, the government promised that it would recommend a reduced sentence if his help was productive. Two months after the plea deal was struck, Groves filed paperwork asking for the reduction.
The plea agreement also exempted Bredimus, his wife and son from facing charges in the obstruction matter and allowed Mills to continue to pursue an appeal on the constitutionality of the law under which Bredimus was charged.
Bredimus in turn pleaded guilty and signed a statement of facts that he traveled to Thailand, hired the pimp and "engaged in sexually explicit conduct" with a 13-year-old boy in Mae Sai.
In November, U.S. District Judge Sam Lindsay sentenced Bredimus to five and a half years in prison and assessed a $30,000 fine. "I'm here with a tremendous amount of shame and regret," Bredimus told the judge. "I've destroyed everything that's dear to me. I have no excuses."
Before the plea agreement was finalized, Bredimus' son and his lawyer flew to Dallas during a hot week in late August and, in what the lawyer says was the son's best interest, lent their help to the government's obstruction probe.
Jason Lamm, the lawyer, says he viewed the Bredimus videotape during the visit and knew that if he played it for his client, it would disabuse him of any notion that his father was innocent or acting under the influence of drugs. "I've defended a lot of sexual offenders and even in my experience, I thought this was sick as hell," Lamm says. "I knew I had to do it delicately."
So Groves gave the two men an empty office, and they sat down together. Lamm started the tape. The 30-second segment he chose showed the father working away with one of the boys. After a few moments he stopped, turned to the camera and smiled. "That's all Jason needed to see," Lamm says. "He said, 'Yeah, that's my father's smile.'"
Carol Smolenski, head of the U.S. arm of ECPAT, a global non-governmental organization fighting child porn, prostitution and trafficking, says enforcement is dwarfed by the growing global problem.
"Numbers are difficult, but our surveys indicate that about a quarter of the sex tourists in the world are from the United States," she says. "Men who wouldn't think of doing something with the next-door-neighbor kids think it's OK if they do it with kids in Thailand or Costa Rica for pay."
Besides Bredimus, prosecutors say only two other men have been convicted in the United States of having sex abroad with minors. Last May, a former Silicon Valley executive, Michael Rostoker, was convicted of traveling to Vietnam to have sex with a minor and using the Internet to induce a minor to commit various sexual acts. The millionaire pedophile, a top California patent attorney, paid a 13-year-old girl and her family more than $150,000 and arranged falsified immigration papers to sneak her into the country.
In 2000, Marvin Hersh, a former Florida Atlantic University professor with a 20-year history of pedophilia, was sentenced to 105 years in prison after his conviction for smuggling a Honduran boy into the United States to serve as his lover. Hersh, who was convicted on 10 counts under various laws, was the first to be convicted under the 1994 statute making it illegal to travel abroad for underage sex. He molested four Honduran siblings, ages 10 to 18--part of a family of 14 living in a one-room hut with a palm-thatched roof and dirt floor. Hersh brought one of the boys to live with him when he was 15 by faking his birth certificate and passing him off as his son.