BALTIMORE — A Mennonite missionary from Virginia who lived in Haiti for more than a decade has been sentenced to 23 years in prison for child sexual abuse in the impoverished Caribbean nation, officials said.
James Arbaugh, 40, of the small Virginia town of Stuarts Draft is the latest American missionary to receive a hefty sentence for taking advantage of Haiti's extensive poverty and anemic rule of law to sexually abuse vulnerable youngsters.
Earlier this year, he pleaded guilty in federal court to one count of traveling in foreign commerce from the U.S. to Haiti to engage in illicit sexual conduct with a child. He was sentenced Monday.
Brian Benczkowski, who leads the Justice Department's criminal division, described Arbaugh as a "wolf in sheep's clothing."
"He posed as a selfless missionary when in reality he was exploiting his position to prey on and sexually abuse vulnerable children in one of the most impoverished areas of the world," Benczkowski, an assistant attorney general, said in a news release.
Arbaugh was arrested last year after telling a Virginia counselor that he had sexual contact with minors in Haiti. A federal affidavit filed by a special agent with Homeland Security Investigations said he told investigators that he groomed or had sexual contact with at least 21 Haitian boys.
The sentencing of Arbaugh comes months after Daniel Pye of Arkansas, a missionary who operated a well-known orphanage in the scenic coastal town of Jacmel, received a 40-year sentence in the U.S. for sexually abusing vulnerable Haitian youngsters in his care.
Haitian child advocate Gertrude Sejour said foreign church groups who fund the work of missionaries in Haiti need to do a far better job ensuring that they're not working with sexual predators or shipping them overseas.
"There's far too many children being abused," said Sejour, of the Haitian advocacy group Maurice Sixto Foundation.
Brian Concannon, executive director of the Boston-based advocacy group Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, said Arbaugh's sentence sends a strong message but would be more powerful if more people were getting prosecuted.
"I think it's clear that there's a lot more abuse happening that isn't being prosecuted," Concannon said in a phone interview.
Arbaugh worked as a missionary with a group called Walking Together for Christ Haiti and described himself on a personal blog as an evangelist and religious film producer. Attempts to reach his lawyer were unsuccessful.