NEWARK, N.J. -- A Canadian was sentenced to 25 years in prison Monday after admitting to running what amounted to a brothel for pedophiles in Thailand that exploited children as young as 4.
John Wrenshall, now 64, moved to the Far East in the late 1990s after serving about a year in prison in Canada on child abuse charges, prosecutors said. Once there, he moved in with a Thai family and plied them with money and gifts to facilitate his plan of setting up a house where he could charge other pedophiles to have sex with at least 14 boys.
"Instead of seeking help or doing anything to remove himself from combustible situations, he purposely inserted himself into a new situation even more egregious than the first two," Assistant U.S. Attorney Lee Vartan said during the sentencing hearing. "He embraced his pedophilia."
The former Calgary resident's arrest in December 2008 was the result of a collaboration between federal authorities and Interpol, the France-based international police agency. After computer images surfaced in Norway in 2006 showing a gray-haired man abusing young boys, Interpol launched a rare public appeal to identify him.
Hundreds of leads flooded in, and within 48 hours police in New Jersey had arrested Wayne Nelson Corliss, a small-time actor and children's entertainer known for dressing up as Santa Claus. On Corliss' computer they found correspondence with Wrenshall, and Wrenshall was arrested at London's Heathrow Airport and extradited to New Jersey.
He pleaded guilty last May to one count of conspiring to engage in sex tourism and two child pornography counts.
Corliss is serving a 20-year sentence for his role in the ring, and two Alabama men who patronized the brothel also have been sentenced to prison terms. U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman said Monday that two more men may have been involved but that they are not believed to be U.S. citizens. The U.S. attorney's office did not know whether the Thai family faced charges.
According to prosecutors, Wrenshall began abusing boys at least as early as the 1960s, when he held a job in Canada as a choir master. The abuse continued in the 1970s when he served as a Boy Scout leader. His prison sentence in Canada was related to the abuses in the 1960s.
Under his plea agreement in New Jersey, Wrenshall was to receive between about 22 and 27 years. U.S. District Judge Dennis Cavanaugh said the only reason he didn't sentence Wrenshall to the maximum was because of his age.
"For more than 40 years he has molested children, and unfortunately he hasn't been deterred by prison," Cavanaugh said. "It seems unlikely he will ever overcome his desires."
Kenneth Kayser, an attorney representing Wrenshall, said his client, who holds two master's degrees, recognized his tendencies as a young boy and did seek help as an adult, and eventually became suicidal but was talked out of it by Corliss.
Standing in a prison jumpsuit with his hands shackled in front of him, the balding Wrenshall pleaded with Cavanaugh to show mercy.
"I'm very ashamed," he said. "I'm very sorry for what I've done. I will do everything I can to better myself and help other people. I don't really want to die in prison. I ask you to temper your judgment."
Fishman called the case one of the most serious his office has prosecuted.
"This is unacceptable conduct in a civilized society," he said. "Hopefully he will never be able to get out to do this to anybody else."
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