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Marine vet gets 210 years prison for drugging, sexually abusing children

A gavel. (TNS/Released)
February 15, 2022

A U.S. Marine Corps veteran convicted of drugging and sexually abusing multiple girls as young as nine years old was sentenced on Monday to 210 years in prison.

68-year-old retired Marine Cpt. Michael Joseph Pepe was found guilty during an August 2021 trial of traveling to Cambodia and engaging in illegal sexual activity with minors in around 2005. Eight victims testified that Pepe drugged, bound, beat and raped multiple young girls, including a nine-year-old. On Monday, the Department of Justice announced Judge Dale S. Fischer of the U.S. District Court for California’s Central District, had sentenced Pepe to 210 years in federal prison.

“What he did to those pre-teen girls…was torture,” Fischer said.

Fischer appeared to rule out the possibility of parole for Pepe, saying there was “no justification for a sentence that would ever allow [Pepe] to be released from prison.”

In addition to the testimony from eight victims, each of whom testified that Pepe sexually abused them, prosecutors also presented corroborating evidence of Pepe’s actions, including homemade child pornography.

Pepe was initially arrested in Cambodia in 2006 and has been in DOJ custody since 2007. He was charged in early 2007 and was tried, convicted and sentenced in 2014, but the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the conviction in 2018. LA Weekly reported at the time that the appeals court overturned the conviction because the divided panel determined prosecutors didn’t show Pepe was “traveling” when he assaulted the girls. Pepe had argued he was living in Cambodia and not technically traveling at the time.

Pepe was sentenced to 210 years in prison and $247,000 in restitution in his previous sentence, which was also handed down by Fischer. At the time, Fischer said, “Monstrous does not begin to capture the horror of the crime or the impact on the victims.”

Judge Fischer has scheduled a restitution hearing for the case for Feb. 28.

In 2014, Claude Arnold, the special agent in charge of U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Los Angeles, said, “This sentence should serve as a sobering warning to every sexual predator who thinks they can hide from the law by violating the innocence of children overseas.”

“This defendant abused and exploited young people in a distant land who had no means to escape and no way to fight back,” Arnold added at the time. “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.”

After Pepe’s initial conviction was overturned, federal prosecutors tried him on new charges. U.S. HSI agents and Cambodian National Police participated in the new investigation against Pepe.

First Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie S. Christensen, Assistant U.S. Attorney Damaris Diaz of the Violent and Organized Crime Section, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Lynda Lao of the General Crimes Section prosecuted the new case.