SAN FRANCISCO — Americans caught paying children for sex in foreign countries can be prosecuted in the United States, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday in upholding a two-year-old law criminalizing such behavior.
Michael Lewis Clark, a 71-year-old military veteran and the first person charged under the so-called Protect Act for having paid sex with minors in Cambodia, had argued that U.S. law enforcement's reach shouldn't extend overseas.
But a divided 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals said Congress' constitutional authority to regulate commerce with foreign countries allows for the prosecution of Clark and other Americans on underage sex tours abroad because they pay for sex.
"The illicit sexual conduct reached by the statute expressly includes commercial sex acts performed by a U.S. citizen on foreign soil," Judge Margaret McKeown wrote for the 2-1 majority of the appeals panel that considered the case.
Clark reserved his right to appeal in 2004 when he pleaded guilty in a federal court in Seattle to soliciting sex from two Cambodian boys, ages 10 and 13.
He was sentenced to eight years and one month in prison. Prosecutors said Clark may have had sex with as many as 50 children in Cambodia, paying them $2 each.
The attorney with the federal public defenders office who represented Clark did not return a telephone call.