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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Serial sex offender surfaces in Cambodia

Jack Louis Sporich was living an idyllic retirement, splitting his time between a luxury condo in Sedona, Ariz., and a sprawling home he was having built in a tourist mecca in Cambodia.

The 74-year-old retired engineer appeared to have escaped his past, which included his classification as one of California's most dangerous sex offenders, one who authorities suspect may have molested more than 500 young boys over the years.

Now officials say Sporich -- who won his release from California's Atascadero State Hospital in May 2004 without spending a single day in treatment -- may have struck again.

He has been charged in Cambodia with indecent acts against minors in a case involving four young Cambodian boys, according to an official in Phnom Penh whose organization helped investigate Sporich.

Cambodian news accounts of his arrest indicate Sporich denied the allegations, which included the claim that he lured the children -- ages 9 to 13 -- to his home with toys and candies. The Cambodia Daily reported that he also attracted youngsters by dropping dollar bills in the street.

He was arrested Feb. 2 and remains in custody in the tourist town of Siem Reap, according to Seila Samleang, executive director of Action Pour Les Enfants-Cambodia. APLE-Cambodia is a nongovernmental organization that works closely with Cambodian police to target foreign pedophiles who exploit youngsters in that country, and Sporich had been under investigation by the group.

Samleang said the charges are misdemeanors punishable by a prison sentence of one to three years. Sexual exploitation of children has been a problem for years in Cambodia, where the age of consent is 15.

Todd Melnik, the defense attorney who won Sporich's release in California, said he knew nothing of the Cambodia charges. An e-mail to Sporich this week seeking comment did not receive a response.

Sporich is no stranger to charges of sex with children.

He spent nine years in prison after his conviction in Ventura County, Calif., on seven counts of lewd acts upon children under 14. Then, he was committed to Atascadero State Hospital as a "sexually violent predator" deemed too dangerous to be released upon completion of his sentence.

David Lehr, a Ventura County defense attorney who originally prosecuted Sporich, said he may have had as many as 500 victims, and that he typically befriended boys through their parents and offered to take them on camping trips.

The parents frequently would pay Sporich for his gas and the time he spent on the trips, Lehr said last week.

"If I had to pick from a list of former and current SVPs (sexually violent predators), he would be, by far, the first one I would be most concerned about," Lehr said in an interview for a series of stories in the Sacramento Bee about sexually violent predators.

Sporich was released from Atascadero in May 2004, after two juries were unable to agree on whether he would re-offend, and he immediately moved to Arizona, where the only requirement he faced was that he register as a sex offender once a year.

He is not listed on the current sex-offender registry maintained by the Arizona Department of Public Safety.

Sporich's case was highlighted in the Bee's series, which revealed that it was far easier for offenders to win release from Atascadero by refusing treatment than by undergoing the lengthy treatment program designed to prevent them from reoffending.

Since the treatment program began 13 years ago, 17 offenders have won release by undergoing all or some of the required programs, and none has reoffended, the state says.

By contrast, 155 others -- including Sporich -- have been released through court orders.

After the Bee's series, lawmakers introduced a number of proposed improvements to the system and voters later overwhelmingly approved Proposition 83. That measure increased prison sentences for habitual and violent offenders and did away with the requirement that sexually violent predators be allowed a trial every two years. Instead, they now can petition annually for a hearing, but the burden of proof is on them to convince a court they no longer pose a threat.

In an interview for the Bee's 2006 series, Sporich said he felt remorse for his actions and complained that California had violated his civil rights by committing him to Atascadero for 39 months after he had completed his prison sentence.

Family members say that in recent years Sporich married a 23-year-old Southeast Asian woman with several small children and that he had begun building a large home in Cambodia.

June Caine, Sporich's older sister, said he met the woman, a waitress, overseas after leaving her a $100 tip. Caine said the family had known for years of Sporich's past and had hoped he would seek treatment.

"I don't want him out anymore," she said. "I think he's sick, and he's never going to get well. I don't want this to go on."

(E-mail Sam Stanton at sstanton(at)sacbee.com.)

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French school evicts Cambodian locals

By Guy De Launey
BBC News, Phnom Penh



San Limsreang knew it was over when the "green screen of death" arrived.

These corrugated metal fences are a common sight in Phnom Penh, encircling communities destined for eviction.

At least two dozen police officers accompanied the workmen sent by City Hall as they dug holes, banged in fence-posts and erected the screen in front of the grocery stalls and coffee shops at the rear of the Lycee Rene Descartes.

Limsreang and his neighbours looked on fearfully as their homes were cut off from the street. They knew all too well what usually happened to communities marked in such a manner.

The 68-year-old had been hoping for a peaceful retirement after a varied working life.

He had worked as a banker, a vet and a civil servant - and for 30 years his ever-expanding family had made their home on the fourth floor of a building behind what is now one of Cambodia's elite schools.

Now the Lycee Rene Descartes wants to expand.

And along with its landlord, the French embassy, it has asked the local authorities to clear Limsreang's building so that it can be used for the school.

The lycee insists that the building belonged to the school before the Khmer Rouge arrived in 1975; now it is merely taking back its rightful property.

The residents, however, say they were ordered to live behind the lycee after Vietnamese-backed forces ousted Pol Pot's government in 1979.

Labelled 'squatters'

"We wanted to go back to my old house but other people were occupying it," Limsreang says.

"After 1979 everyone ended up living in different houses. At that time all the houses belonged to the government - that's why we had to do that."

The new regime did not allow much flexibility. As well as being directed to live in the building behind the lycee, many were told to work in the school which took over the site.

Later the residents took jobs with the local government or the civil service.

They lived rent-free, but were officially registered by the authorities, and took their right to live in their homes for granted.

That turned out to be overly-optimistic. When peace returned to Cambodia in the 1990s, so did the Lycee Rene Descartes.

At first the school co-existed with the residents, but an expanding demand prompted the lycee to seek the removal of the community.

"This site belonging to the embassy must go back to the school," says Pierre Olivieri, the co-ordinator of a parents' committee pressing for the move.

"We're the only French school in the world with a squat - even nations at war like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Sudan don't have that.

"It's not good for the image of France or Cambodia."

The residents resent being labelled as "squatters", and they were unwilling to leave for the compensation on offer - a few thousand dollars and a plot of undeveloped land on a reclaimed lake on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.

Limsreang says that City Hall made a series of threats to evict his community - and said it would give them nothing if they did not accept the terms.

Fearing the worst, some families signed the deal and moved out.

The only ray of hope for the residents was the support of some of the students at the Lycee.

'Regularly criticised'

A student demonstration before Khmer New Year in April brought much-needed publicity to the community's plight.

"It's a horrible feeling because they say they're doing this for us - for us the students," says a 17-year-old protester, Raimondo Pictet.

"For security reasons and for our well-being, these people are being evicted. Well they're human beings too - and they also have a well-being.

They have children who are also going to school - and if they're evicted they won't be able to finish their school year."

Raimondo's efforts have not been appreciated universally.

He says he has been insulted by some students' parents, and a local newspaper published a disparaging comment from the school principal.

But the residents behind the lycee say they are grateful for the students' involvement.

"I'm really excited that teenage students understand about human rights," says Limsreang, before he is interrupted by his son Vichet, a medical student.

"Yes, but it's not good for the French government. Maybe they don't give a damn about human rights issues in Cambodia.

"But we're living here legitimately, and we want to leave here with a fair amount of compensation. We don't want to get rich or anything."

The French embassy did not respond to several requests for an interview.

After weeks of pressure, the remaining residents have now agreed to go.

They say they are sympathetic to the needs of the school, but frightened that their relocation might turn into another forced eviction in which they could lose everything.
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