COLIN FREEZE AND JOSH WINGROVE
December 16, 2008
A Canadian charged with running a sex tourism business pairing international travellers with young boys at his Thailand home was arrested in Britain yesterday.
John Wrenshall, 62, was nabbed by British police and U.S. immigration officials at Heathrow Airport in London early yesterday morning. A Canadian citizen living near Bangkok, Mr. Wrenshall was wanted on a variety of U.S. charges laid in August.
The scale of the alleged sex tourism ring may be unprecedented in international law.
"This is a rarity - thankfully - there aren't many people like John Wrenshall [accused of ] running a sex tourism ring out of their homes in Thailand," prosecutor Lee Vartan told The Globe and Mail in an interview last night
"There were boys as young as four, six, eight, nine .... there were a range of ages. Different clients preferred different ages," he said. The prosecutor added that "Wrenshall, from the perspective of federal law enforcement, really was the organizer of all this."
Mr. Vartan said it's anyone's guess how many sex tourists used the alleged Thai boy brothel, as well as how many boys were abused. He wouldn't elaborate on how police say the accused, who he said had resigned from a Thai university, gained access to so many children.
Indicted by a New Jersey grand jury in August, the criminal complaint against Mr. Wrenshall was unsealed only yesterday as he was arrested in Britain. U.S. authorities been working toward an extradition case from Thailand when they learned he was travelling to London.
According the U.S. Department of Justice charges, Mr. Wrenshall has run the business since at least 2000. He arranged trips to Thailand for foreigners "to engage in sexual acts with the boys, sometimes for weeks at a time," and was paid for the encounters, the department said in a release yesterday.
He told his customers that the money paid "would be used to support the boys," his indictment alleges.
His customers were allowed to photograph the abuse, and Mr. Wrenshall is said to have engaged in sex himself with the boys, according to U.S. court documents.
The investigation began in 2005, when Canadian investigators discovered explicit images online. They led to blurred photos of a man, which were sanitized and released by Interpol early this year.
The man was identified as an American named Wayne Nelson Corliss, who was arrested soon after.
Mr. Corliss pleaded guilty two months ago to charges stemming from participation in a sex tourism scheme.
"This individual engaged in among the most depraved conduct imaginable with helpless children," U.S. attorney Christopher Christie said at the time of Mr. Corliss's guilty plea.
Mr. Corliss identified Mr. Wrenshall to investigators.
During the hearing, Mr. Corliss testified that Mr. Wrenshall ran the business he participated in, and that he stayed in Mr. Wrenshall's home when committing the abuse. He also identified two other Americans who have been indicted and pleaded guilty last month.
In an indictment for Mr. Wrenshall's arrest, it's alleged that he would "receive money for obtaining young boys in Thailand for the purpose of engaging in sexual acts with individuals..." It is further alleged that "he, co-conspirator Wayne Nelson Corliss and others would ... sexually abuse the young Thai boys" and that "videos and pictures of the young boys being sexually abused were taken." It includes a list of still images, depicting in some cases more than one young boy involved in sex acts.
Mr. Wrenshall was held in Britain, pending extradition to the United States. He faces charges related to sex tourism and child pornography, a total of 18 charges, each carrying, if he's convicted, at least 10 years in prison.
Canada has a sex tourism law, effectively extending the arm of its sex laws to Canadians even if crimes are committed overseas, but it has been used only once since it was passed in 1996, said David Butt, a former prosecutor who is now the legal director of the Kids' Internet Safety Alliance.
"It's great, in theory," he said. "[But] there also has to be the ... much more expensive and difficult commitment to operationalizing that law."
He said that while some Western countries have investigators in other foreign nations that are typically problem spots for sex tourism, Canada "doesn't have the players to be in the game." The only conviction came when a Canadian man returned home with images on his own laptop, effectively making the case against him.
"When it comes to child abuse travel, or sex tourism as it's called, we're not as far ahead as we need to be," Mr. Butt said.
Mr. Corliss's image was released by Interpol in an effort to identify him, the same method used to arrest Canadian Christopher Paul Neil in Thailand last year.
Mr. Neil, originally from B.C., pleaded guilty earlier this year, was convicted of additional charges, and is serving a sentence of more than eight years in a Thai prison.