A Sex Offender Who Evaded the System

Michael Dodd, a registered sex offender in Florida, got lost in the system.

April 8, 2010, 1:12 PM

April 8, 2010— -- Convicted sex offender Michael Dodd could face up to 30 more years in prison if convicted on new charges of traveling abroad to have sex with a minor.

In February, the FBI arrested Dodd and returned him to the U.S. from Cambodia, where he was serving time after being convicted of having sexual relations with a teenager.

He is being held without bail in Los Angeles.

Before he was arrested earlier this year, we met Dodd, 61, in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh, where he was accused of attempting to arrange a marriage to a 14-year-old girl. At the time, Dodd was still on parole for abusing children in America, but got lost in the system.

Recent headlines have been dominated by allegations of law enforcement and parole lapses in cases of convicted sex offenders, from Phillip Garrido, who was accused of holding Jaycee Dugard captive in his backyard for 18 years, to John Gardner, another paroled sex offender who was accused of raping and killing California high school student Chelsea King.

The Michael Dodd case provides a blow-by-blow example of how easy it is for a convicted child sex offender to simply slip through the cracks, especially overseas.

We traced Dodd's path from the suburbs of Orlando to upstate New York to Cambodia, which 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.

But Dodd's story began in 2001 on the island of Saipan, part of the U.S. Commenwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, where he worked as a reading evaluator at an elementary school, and was arrested and convicted for abusing students.

Dodd "basically took advantage of an opportunity when he was testing these children on their reading. They would be alone together in a classroom and the child would be reading and that's [the] time when he molested them," said Kevin Lynch, who prosecuted Dodd for abusing students. "It was obvious from the get go that it was a very serious case."

Eighteen children -- all first and third-graders -- came forward, including Jesus Sablan's seven-year-old daughter. She told her mother that Dodd put his hand down her shirt.

"I was boiling mad when I heard that from my daughter," Sablan said. "I just felt at that time like going over and finding that guy and ringing his neck out. That's how mad I was."

In an eerie hand-written confession obtained by "Nightline," Dodd tried to explain his abuse, blaming it on everything from lack of affordable local restaurants to the incompetence of the local cable television company.

In April 2002, Dodd pleaded guilty to molesting five children and got a 10- year sentence. But in May 2006, after less than five years behind bars, Dodd went before the parole board for a third time and they voted to let him go.

"I cannot read the individual's mind," said Ramon Camacho, chairman of the parole board of the Northern Mariana Islands.

Camacho said he thought Dodd would be safe in the community.

Dodd's Dangerous Odyssey

Dodd's next stop was Guam, authorities say, which is also an American territory. He was subjected to tough parole conditions there: a curfew; random visits from parole officers; no unsupervised contact with children.

Just six weeks after Dodd arrived, the local parole chief reached a stunning decision: Dodd's request to move to the state of Florida would be granted -- even though all of his parole conditions would no longer apply.

"He seemed like a person that wanted to do well," said Michael Quinata, Guam's chief parole officer. "I didn't sense that [he was going to reoffend] because he was very compliant."

Given what happened next, Quinata said: "I think we got played."

Six weeks out of prison for sexually abusing children, Dodd moved into a house in suburban Orlando. There, officials say, he seemed to be trying once again to befriend young children.

Jennifer Roberts, a grandmother who lived across the street, said Dodd called a young girl into his yard.

"My husband was test driving my motorcycle and he went around the corner and saw [Dodd] out there [talking] to our neighbor's little girl and he had a little puppy with him," she said. "And when my husband came back he said you better call the police."

Though the police came and spoke to Dodd, they did not put him on parole supervision. Sgt. Glen Hall of the Lake County Sheriff's office, in Tavares, Fla., said he had no legal authority to increase Dodd's supervision, as he said he was responsible for sex offender registry supervision only and had no parole authority.

"We did everything we could do as far as making sure he was in compliance, checking in on him," Hall said. "It's absolutely scary -- especially knowing his background. There's no doubt about it."

Hall said that he wouldn't have even known how to sound the alarm about Dodd's track record and admitted the system seemed to have completely failed in this case.

But this situation is not uncommon; of the more than 700,000 sex offenders in the U.S. today, 100,000 are missing, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

"It's very frustrating. There's concern. There are worries there without a doubt," Hall said of the parole system. "You know they've already committed these offenses one time. When are they gonna commit again?"

Dodd Reportedly Displayed Interest in Kids in N.Y.

Dodd's case was about to get worse. In August 2007 -- about a year after getting out of prison -- he moved to Syracuse, N.Y., where he continued to display a worrisome interest in young children, a caseworker reported.

Judy Klenchik, who was Dodd's case manager at a homeless shelter, said he told her that he wanted to approach a young child on the street corner.

"Michael told me he saw the child standing on Gifford Street and he was concerned about that child and wanted to approach him," Klenchik recalled. "That was another really big red flag and concern."

Klenchik said she got truly alarmed when, a few months later, in December 2007, Dodd showed her a plane ticket to Cambodia, where he said he had a job teaching English to children.

Klenchik said she notified the parole board, but doesn't know what action they took.

"I don't know what they did when I notified them. I did everything that I could at that time to get the ball rolling to make that not happen," she said. "As far as I could go; I made the calls, I did what I had to do. I was praying that that plane wasn't going to leave for Cambodia."

But it did.

In Cambodia, Dodd was accused of attempting to arrange his marriage with a 14-year-old girl named Nang.

Dodd was shown on undercover video, complaining to Nang's mother that the girl was being insufficiently affectionate with him, despite the amount of money he had given the family.

"I just can't keep going like this anymore with her. I don't think she loves me," Dodd said on camera. "I really want to find out."

"Is there a word for mannequin? When I kiss her I feel like I'm kissing a statue. There's no reciprocity. She's just like a limp pillow," he said. "She's gotta understand that I can't wait to kiss her. A general, how are you kiss. And she avoids it, she shuns it."

"I want to ask: if we get married, is she ok to move to the states?" Dodd said on camera.

The translator said Nang didn't want to leave her family.

Dodd didn't know it, but undercover agents from a local anti-trafficking group called APLE, had started tracking him round the clock shortly after he arrived in Cambodia after they spotted him on the street with Nang.

APLE has made it its mission to identify suspected foreign pedophiles and to help gather enough evidence for the police to make an arrest.

Dodd Faces Up to 30 Years in Prison

Cambodia is a magnet for pedophiles. Local investigators took us into the seedy world where they say one can get anything for a price; a world where Dodd seemed to have completely and comfortably immersed himself.

In October 2008 -- 10 months after he arrived and more than two years after he got out of prison -- Cambodian police, in conjunction with the FBI, swooped in and arrested Dodd. They took him and Nang's mother into custody.

Dodd was sentenced to ten years in prison in August 2009. Outside the courthouse in Phnom Penh, we met Nang.

"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 watched as the girl was 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.

After four years of evading the law, Dodd was brought back to the U.S. by the FBI in February 2010. He will stand trial for traveling abroad to have sex with a minor. If convicted, he faces up to 30 years in prison.

Dodd's long run of slipping through the cracks is over, but no one knows how many young victims may have been left in its wake.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events