U.S. Man Gets 17 Years in Prison for Traveling to Dominican Republic to Prey on GirlsAn American man has been sentenced to 17 years in prison after pleading guilty to traveling to the Dominican Republic to prey on underage girls.
The man, Theodore Symonds, 51, had traveled to Puerto Plata, known for its silvery waters and beach resorts, to engage in sexual conduct with two girls in March 2017, the United States attorney’s office for the Southern District of Florida said on Friday, a day after the sentencing. At the time, one girl was 13 and the other was 15.
The case highlighted the little-reported subjects of underage sex trafficking and sex tourism in the Dominican Republic, which prosecutes few such cases.
There are 25,000 to 35,000 prostitutes in the country, an estimated 60 percent of whom entered the sex industry as minors, according to a study conducted by the International Labour Organization, a United Nations agency. Prostitution is legal in the Dominican Republic, but the country prohibits brothels and soliciting for sex. The age of consent is 18.
The country’s proximity to the United States and its idyllic beaches make it an easy vacation destination for many, but the country’s poverty means that children looking for a way to support their families can be targeted by abusers.
“There is no immunity for these heinous crimes, whether committed at home or abroad,” Benjamin G. Greenberg, the United States attorney for the Southern District of Florida, said in a statement.
According to court records, Mr. Symonds messaged the girls on Facebook, asking them repeatedly if they belonged to him and requesting that they send him nude photos of themselves. When the girls sent him partly nude photos, he responded, “No clothes, my God,” urging them to strip further. Mr. Symonds also sent the girls seminude photos of themselves from past visits, including one showing him and one of the girls lying down together, both partly clothed, according to the court documents.
Some of the most revealing messages were not sent to the girls but instead to a person who appeared to be a worried male friend of his in the Dominican Republic, whose initials are A.R. Facebook messages between the men were confiscated by the authorities. Following is a partial text of them, translated from Spanish:
A.R.: oh my, be careful
A.R.: with your underage women
A.R.: Be careful
Symonds: a lot of minors, my god
A.R.: ok bro, whats going on?
Symonds: I thought she was 20
A.R.: she’s 13 bro, what’s going on?
Mr. Symonds goes on to tell A.R. that it is O.K. that the girl is 13 because he is friends with police officers and her family. His friend informed him that everyone was saying Mr. Symonds was the 13 year-old girl’s first sexual encounter. Mr. Symonds responded that her mother knew about their relationship and that everything was O.K. His friend continued to warn him to be careful.
At one point, the 15-year-old girl asked Mr. Symonds if they could use protection when they met up and Mr. Symonds questioned her, telling her he did not want any problems with his penis.
Mr. Symonds later acknowledged to the authorities that he had a relationship with the girls, saying that he knew they were underage but that he never had sexual contact with them.
Anthony Natale, a lawyer for Mr. Symonds, did not respond to an email message or return a phone call seeking comment. The authorities said that Mr. Symonds traveled frequently to the Dominican Republic, but it is not clear where he lives in the United States.
The Dominican authorities apprehended him in March 2017 and alerted the United States government, which started its investigation.
Mr. Symonds told the American authorities that had he known what he did in the Dominican Republic would subject him to punishment in the United States, he would not have returned.