Los Angeles, CA, U.S
An 87-year-old American sex tourist who was arrested as he set off to have sex with two pre-teen girls in the Philippines was sentenced on Monday to 20 years in jail. Wheelchair-bound widower and grandfather John Seljan had faced up to 180 years in prison for the six counts on which he was convicted in November, prosecutors said earlier. But United States federal Judge Alicemarie Stotler said she had to take into account the reality that the minimum sentence she could impose - 15 to 20 years - would put Seljan behind bars for the rest of his life.
"When you're 87 years old, it is tantamount to a life sentence," Stotler told the court in Santa Ana, in California's Orange County.
Seljan, a former country singer, was the first person to be convicted at trial of violating the 2003 Protect Act that punishes US sex tourists irrespective of where the crime occurred. He was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport in October 2003 as he prepared to board a flight to the Philippines, where prosecutors said he was planning to have sex with two girls aged nine and 12.
The suspect was armed with 45kg of chocolates, sex aids, pornographic pictures and sexually explicit letters written to the two young girls. Many of the pictures show the old man with small girls who were often naked. Seljan is sometimes naked or has his underwear pulled down, while his letters to the girls are rife with references to their "love-making."
Seljan, who urged young girls to call him "Uncle Johnny," told FBI agents who arrested him that he had been "educating" young Filipinas for 20 years but did not know that his actions were illegal, his trial court had heard.
But the judge was sceptical: "To everyone else it is just so very difficult, if not downright hideous, to understand what Mr Seljan did, (and) to understand that he could really think that this was not wrong," she said.
Prosecutors say Seljan, who authorities began investigating in November 2002 after intercepting one of his letters, also had maps to the girls' homes in his luggage.
The conviction and 20-year sentence highlights a US crackdown on its citizens travelling abroad for sex tourism.
Seljan was convicted in 1977 of first-degree sexual assault on an 11-year-old in the north-eastern US state of Wisconsin.