English teacher gets 9 years for sex with Cambodian teen

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A former English teacher was sentenced to nearly nine years in prison on Monday for traveling to Cambodia to have sex with a 14 year-old girl in what the judge called one of the “most disgusting cases” he had ever heard.

Prosecutors say Michael James Dodd, 61, admitted to sexually abusing the girl over an eight-month period in 2008 during which he paid her impoverished family $100 a month for private visits with her.

Dodd, a U.S. citizen, was then working in Phnom Penh as an English teacher.

U.S. District Judge John F. Walter expressed reluctance to approve the prison term of eight years and eight months sought by prosecutors under a plea deal with Dodd, indicating he thought the sentence was too lenient for the crime.

“I may live to regret this,” the judge said, adding that he had no doubt that when Dodd is released from prison “he’s going to do this again.”

“This is one of the most disgusting cases that has ever come before this court,” he said. He called Dodd a “cunning, clever and manipulative predator.”

But imposing the maximum possible sentence of 30 years in prison would have required a jury conviction, and the Cambodian victim would have been expected to travel to the United States to testify against Dodd. Walter said he was unwilling to force her to suffer that ordeal.

Dodd pleaded guilty in September to traveling to Cambodia to engage in illicit sexual conduct with a minor.

He previously served more than four years in prison in the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, where in 2002 he was convicted of inappropriately touching underage girls. Dodd was working at an elementary school at the time.

After his release from prison there, Dodd traveled to Cambodia in 2007 to begin teaching there. Prosecutors say there is evidence that he abused other minors in Cambodia aside from the 14 year-old girl.

Cambodian police arrested Dodd in October 2008, after they investigated his relationship with the girl, and he served 16 months in jail in that country before authorities revoked his visa and expelled him.

FBI agents escorted Dodd back to the United States.

The bespectacled Dodd was soft-spoken during his Monday court appearance, and he thanked his lawyers for treating him like a “brother or a dad.” He then tried to engage the judge in conversation.

“I have no desire to sit here and engage in idle chit-chat and banter with you,” Walter said.

Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis: Editing by Greg McCune