Tracking Suspected American Pedophiles in Cambodia

Reporter goes inside global crackdown effort on suspected pedophiles.

ByABC News
September 15, 2009, 11:31 AM

PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA, Sept. 16, 2009— -- Snaking through the streets of Cambodia's capital city, we're on the tail of suspected American pedophile Harvey Johnson. The 57-year-old failed real estate developer from Arizona has been teaching English out of his house in Phnom Penh for two years. His position has given him ample opportunity to get close to children, authorities say.

Cambodia has long been a top destination for pedophiles from the United States and all over the world, according to law enforcement officials and humanitarian groups.

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Unbeknown to Johnson, he has been under surveillance by a local nonprofit group called APLE, which has made it its mission to identify suspected foreign pedophiles and to help gather enough evidence for the police to make an arrest.

Johnson is accused of using his position as an English teacher to molest several underage girls. APLE investigators tell ABC News they first noticed Johnson in October 2007 when they claim he was behaving suspiciously with children in public.

"He was seen touching; he was seen caressing those children. That's why we opened a case against him," APLE agent Samleang Seila tells us.

APLE used an undercover "spy agent" to befriend Johnson. Its hidden cameras caught Johnson allegedly selling child pornography to the agent. The agent recorded hours of conversations in which APLE claimed Johnson talked freely about molesting young girls.

"Slipped my little finger right up her," he told the APLE agent in a hidden audio recording. "But it was snug. She's very small."

After nearly two years of building its case, APLE agents told us that they believed they'd finally provided the police with enough evidence to get an arrest warrant.

In the final days of its investigation, it agreed to give ABC News extraordinary, behind-the-scenes access.

"No because there's love. I love her. I'm crazy about her."

"How you can be in love with her? You're roughly 60 years old. She doesn't speak your language. She's very young," I said.

"Well, look at this, you know, our previous generations, before we were born, before they made the age limits, there wasn't such a -- I'm sorry," he said, before he's taken away by cops.

Outside the courthouse, we meet Dodd's alleged victim.

"Do you think Michael Dodd behaved inappropriately with you?" I asked her. "Did he sexually abuse you?"

"Yes," the translator said as the little girl nodded.

We watch as the girl is completely shunned by members of her own family, who blamed her for getting her mother in trouble. She was allowed to hug her younger brother.

We were some of the first journalists the Cambodian government had ever allowed inside Preysar prison -- the largest in Cambodia. We talk to other alleged American sex offenders who've been busted by APLE and other organizations.

We approached Erik Peters, a convicted sex offender back in California, who's accused of abusing several young boys here in Cambodia. They testified that Peters allegedly touched them inappropriately, sodomized them and took pictures of the acts.

"We just want to ask you about the charges against you," I said.

"Sorry, I can't speak," he told me.

"You can't speak about it at all?"

"No, if you want to talk about human rights abuses or something ..." he said.

"Are there human rights abuses?" I asked.

"Well, that would have to be interviewed at a safer location. I can't speak about it right now."

We ask Peters about the charges against he, which he denied.

"Absolutely untrue," he told us.

Peters and many other American pedophiles are accused of using a similar technique -- called "grooming" -- where they pay families in order to abuse their children. Johnson had allegedly been using the "grooming" technique as well. He's accused of talking about it openly with APLE's spy agent with his young students in the room.

"Frankly, I'm playing this for the long haul. All of these are gonna be 15 within two years, except the little one," APLE claimed Johnson said on its hidden audio recording.

But Johnson is having breakfast at a restaurant down the street, which is the same place we saw him a couple of days ago, when undercover police roll up and surround Johnson.

Suddenly, officers rush in and make their arrest. Johnson looks surprised, but stays surprisingly calm as he's asked to come down to the station.

At the station, we confront him.

"Harvey, I'm Dan Harris from ABC News. The police said you've been abusing girls here in Cambodia for the past couple of years."

"I've only been here two years. I have no idea what they're talking about," he replied.

"Yeah, they've been following you for two years. A group called APLE, which is an NGO that investigates sex tourists," I explained. "They've been following you for two years, and they said that you've been abusing girls and that they have proof of that."

"I don't know what they're talking about," he said.

Johnson claimed that there's no truth to that accusation. He denied having abused any girls in Cambodia, saying that as a teacher, young girls frequently visited his home.

"They also have you on an audio tape, you saying that you had inserted your finger into one of the girls," I told him.

"I don't know what they're talking about," he said.

"But it's your voice."

"I don't know what they're talking about."

After presenting Johnson with a warrant from anti-human trafficking and juvenile protection, the police walked him down the street to their vehicles as a crowd gathered.

Johnson told us he had no idea that APLE had been following him for the past two years.

"They've been on you pretty much every minute for two years," I said.

"I don't know what they're talking about," he said.

"You didn't know, though, I mean they had agents in the house next door to yours. They've been following you everywhere you go. You had no idea?"


"Does it surprise you?"

"Shocked. Yeah. I know a lot of people. I teach. I teach older people, I teach children. I have …"

"So you're confident this will turn into nothing?"

"Sure," he said, "sure."

They took Johnson to the police station where's he was questioned and placed in a jail cell. The next morning, police returned with Johnson to search his home, where they found stacks of porn, lubricant, Viagra and children's toys. They found cameras in his bedroom and confiscated several computers and hard drives.

When we asked him about the porn and video cameras in his bedroom, Johnson said they didn't belong to him.

"No, they're the man who owns the house," he said. "There were a lot of cameras."

He was now armed with a defense: that the girls who are accusing him of molestation are doing so to cover up for stealing his camera weeks before.

"I think she's making it all up. I think frankly, I think it was a set up," he said. "There were a lot of bad things that came down about that camera. About the telephone that was stolen. I had to make threats that I was gonna bring in the police."

Back at the police station, Johnson's alleged victims -- many in ponytails and pajamas -- had been called in to give statements. Even the APLE agents, hardened by years of investigating alleged pedophiles, seem genuinely shaken by the testimony of one of the girls, who said Johnson threatened her into engaging in sex acts.

"I have young daughter, and I am very emotionally touched and I am really sad when I hear any girl talking about sexual abuse," said APLE agent Samlean Seila. "I'm really concerned about my daughter, and I don't want my daughter to be sexually abused like that so it's really touching me."

The girl's mother said she was totally unaware of the alleged abuse -- until now.

"When I found out, I wanted to die," she said. "I only allowed my daughter to study with Harvey because we thought he was a good person, and my family is poor."