Teens Testify in ‘Sex Tourism’ Case

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 26, 2005

PHILADELPHIA – Four Moldovan teenagers testified Wednesday that a wealthy American motel owner tried to seduce them, sometimes with invitations to play a children’s game in the boarding house where he was staying.

Anthony Mark Bianchi is on trial this week under a 2003 law designed to thwart “sex tourism” by trying suspected overseas child predators in U.S. courts. Bianchi has been accused of assaulting nearly a dozen minors abroad. Eight boys from Moldova have been brought to the United States to testify, and two others from Romania are scheduled to come, prosecutors say.

Prosecutors say Bianchi, 44, of North Wildwood, N.J., tossed money around the small, picturesque village to ingratiate himself with the local residents when he was in the former Soviet republic in the winter of 2003-04. They charge that Bianchi assaulted nearly a dozen teenagers in exchange for money, liquor, gifts and travel, including trips to Cuba and Romania.

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Defense attorney Mark Geragos said his client was an easy target for blackmail and extortion because he is wealthy.

Four of the five slender, sometimes bewildered teenage boys from Moldova who testified Wednesday said that Bianchi made advances such as caressing their hair and had oral sex with some. Prosecutors withdrew a fifth witness after the boy could not identify Bianchi in the courtroom.

The first teenager to testify in the case said he met Bianchi in the winter of 2003-04 through his teacher, who runs a boarding house in the Moldovan village of Trebujeni.

The 16-year-old, who said he takes tourists on horse-drawn carriage rides, said he was invited to the boarding house and then into Bianchi’s room. There the two played Connect Four before Bianchi began caressing his head and thigh, and then tugged on his pants as if to pull them down, the teen testified.

“I got scared and I run,” said the teen said, speaking in Romanian through a translator. The Associated Press is not naming the teens because they are alleged victims of sex crimes.

The second teenager, now 18, said he too played Connect Four and was caressed. Bianchi then performed oral sex on him, he said.

“I stayed there overnight and in the morning he gave me 200 leu (about $16),” the teen said.

Another teenager said he could not remember if a second encounter with Bianchi occurred before his 16th birthday. Prosecutors say 16 is the age of consent in child-sex cases, although Geragos argues that consent is at 15.

That teen said he met Bianchi through an acquaintance and agreed to have Bianchi visit his family in their two-bedroom apartment in Chisinau, the Moldovan capital. Bianchi arrived with his luggage and spent the night in the small bedroom the boy shared with a brother.

Bianchi caressed his legs and back before the boy changed beds, the teenager testified. The next morning, Bianchi said he was “disappointed” and left after leaving about $32 for the family for the stay, the boy said.

The defense says the teens changed their stories and that they are being pressured by Moldovan authorities to testify against the wealthy American.

“If they’re leading with their strength, it shows exactly what I laid out in openings, that … this whole thing has been orchestrated and manufactured,” Geragos said. “When you get into an American courtroom, (it) … is not going to carry the day.”

A service of the Associated Press(AP)