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Americans Targeted for Allegedly Running Underage Prostitution in Philippines

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(SUBIC BAY, Philippines) -- Arthur Benjamin is sitting at the
edge of a small stage, wearing a lavender Hawaiian shirt and nursing a bottle of
San Miguel Light beer. The 6-foot-6 mustachioed Texan lazily watches the
half-dozen or so girls dancing rather around the stage's pole.

"I forgot
your gift again, it's in the car," Benjamin says to one of the girls on stage,
shouting above the pop music blaring from the speaker system.

The small,
dingy bar, which Benjamin says he owns, is called Crow Bar. It's in a rundown
part of the picturesque Subic Bay in the western Philippines, about a three-hour
drive from the capital Manila. Home for 50 years to a United States naval base,
Subic Bay has become synonymous with foreigners looking for sex in the long
string of bars that line the main road along the coast.

The bars in this
area are often packed with older foreign men ogling the young Filipino women
available for the night for a "bar fine" of around 1,500 Filipino pesos, or just
over $35. Many of the bars are owned and operated by Americans, often former
military servicemen who either served on the base or whose ships docked here
until the base was shuttered under political pressure in 1992.

Most of
the prostitutes working in the bars are indeed 18 or older. But in the
Philippines, just a small scratch to the surface can reveal a layer of young,
underage girls who have mostly come from impoverished rural provinces to sell
their bodies to help support their families.

Benjamin, 49, is, according
to his own statements, one of the countless foreigners who has moved beyond just
having sex with underage girls to owning and operating a bar where girls in
scantily-clad outfits flaunt their bodies for patrons.

"My wife recently
found out that I have this place," he tells an ABC News team, unaware they're
journalists and recording the conversation on tiny hidden cameras disguised as
shirt buttons.

Benjamin said that a "disgruntled waitress" had written
his wife on Facebook, detailing his activities in Subic Bay.

"She sent
her this thing saying that I have underage girls who stayed with me, that I
[have sex with them], I own a bar, I've got other girls that I'm putting through
high school, all this other crap," he said.

"All of which is true," he
laughed. "However, I have to deny."

He sends a text message summoning his
current girlfriend, a petite dark-skinned girl called Jade, who he said is just
16 years old. Benjamin says he bought the bar for her about a year ago, and
while most still call it Crow Bar, he officially renamed it with her last

"She needed a place to stay, I needed a place to do her. I bought a
bar for her," he says, explaining that she lives in a house out back by the

"You're not going to find anything like this in the States, not as
a guy my age," he said as he looked down at Jade. "Ain't going to

Benjamin is the latest target of Father Shay Cullen, a Catholic
priest with a thick Irish brogue and fluency in the local language, Tagalog.
Through his non-profit center called Preda, he's been crusading against underage
sex trafficking in the Philippines for 40 years.

In December, Cullen
started to encourage an 18-year-old prostitute who had worked at Crow Bar to
tell him and his social workers what she saw inside the bar. Two months later,
the girl, Marisol, agrees to sit down with Cullen and his social workers,
leafing through pages of photos from the bar. She identities four girls who she
says worked there as underage, including a baby-faced one who is known in the
bar as Princess.

"These characters who come here looking for sex with
young children and selling them to everybody like they're just like chickens in
the market? I mean, we are ready for the worst evil that we can imagine," Cullen
said. "They're really evil people who need a millstone around their neck, to be
thrown in the ocean here."

Father Shay, as he's known to everyone at
Preda, blames the rampant underage prostitution on a combination of widespread
poverty, lax and corrupt law enforcement and a "machismo kind of culture that
says women are objects, girls are the most desirable."

In the months
after Benjamin first appeared as a blip on Father Shay's radar in September,
Shay says he has gathered enough evidence through Marisol and a team of
Australian documentary filmmakers that had been working undercover to present it
to the National Bureau of Investigation, the Filipino equivalent of the

Working with them on American cases is the U.S. Immigration and
Customs Enforcement agency, or ICE. Under the PROTECT Act, they work with the
Filipino authorities to extradite Americans back to the United States for

"For me, as long as they're behind bars, not committing
these acts, I sleep very well at night. Whether it's in the Philippines or in
the United States," Special Agent Eric McLoughlin said in an

McLoughlin estimates that he has been involved in thousands of
investigations involving Americans in his three years here that involve sexually
abusing minors.

"A lot of the Americans want to come here because they
perceive it's easier to operate here than in the United States," he said. "And
we're happy to remind them they are sadly mistaken. We are going to find them
and they are going to be held accountable."

In early February, as Father
Shay and Marisol drive to Manila to try to convince NBI to raid Benjamin's bar,
ABC News set up another meeting with Benjamin at a café on the former American

Over coffee, he continues to boast about his girlfriend Jade, who
he says is only 16, one of several underage girls he says he has been with. He
met Jade a year and a half ago and slept with her and her older sister, he said,
before taking Jade in.

Asked how he manages to hide the underage girls
from the authorities, he credits his Mama-san, the term for a Filipino woman
found in every bar who recruits and manages the girls. His Mama-san is called
Lucy. He also claimed he pays graft money to four different groups of local
authorities to "keep them off our ass."

The raid on Benjamin's Crow Bar
is given the green light by NBI. The Australian film crew working with Father
Shay organizes a fake bachelor party for a Tuesday night, designed to guarantee
that Benjamin will be there. ABC News is invited to the party, to be inside as
the raid happens. ICE will also be joining NBI on the raid.

When Tuesday
evening arrives, confusion breaks out as NBI and ICE agents come through the
door and start herding the girls into a corner.

"I want to see your
hands! Sit down! No talking!" McLoughlin shouts at the girls.

in a blue polo shirt, looks like he's trying to blend into the wall. He's not
addressed by the authorities and after several minutes, he slowly heads for the
door but is blocked by an NBI agent.

When the ABC News Nightline
team reveals to him that they are journalists and asks him about whether he is
selling underage girls out of his bar, he denies everything.

"I've never
had underage girls here and I do not have sex with underage girls," he says
calmly. "It's just talk," he explains, "a bit of braggadocio."

He doesn't
admit to knowing Jade, even when we told him all of his conversations with ABC
News had been recorded on camera. None of the girls admit to being underage and
none turn on Benjamin. Princess insists she's 18 and defends Benjamin as a "good
man, a nice man." Dentists check the girls' teeth, one of the easiest ways to
estimate someone's age.

NBI fails to find Benjamin's name on any of the
bar's documentation. But after several of the girls tell them that Benjamin owns
the bar, the NBI agents feel they have enough to arrest him.

"There's no
minors here, we don't have minors here," Benjamin tells the lead NBI agent when
told he's under arrest for employing minors in the bar. "Fine, I'll go with you.
I have no problem with that."

They quietly lead him -- without handcuffs
-- to a white van. The girls are in another one. Everyone heads back to the
Preda center to figure out the next moves.

Despite the arrest, Father
Shay isn't savouring the moment, instead arguing with the agents about where the
girls are being taken, concerned they will be mistreated and the case will fall
apart if they go to Manila, which he views as deeply corrupt.

the authorities agree to take the girls to a Department of Social Welfare and
Development center in nearby Papanga. Soon after, Princess admits to being 16
and her birth certificate confirms it. Four others have birth certificates
showing they're of age, but the social workers suspect they could be fakes and
their dental exams suggest they're minors.

Marisol, the 18-year-old who
led Father Shay to Benjamin, says she'll never go back to the bars and Preda is
trying to give her work. Jade has disappeared; NBI says the house behind the bar
is empty.

Three weeks after the raid, Benjamin and Mama Lucy remain in
jail in Manila, held as the prosecution debates what to charge them

The Filipino authorities are doing "very, very little" to solve the
plague of underage prostitution, Father Shay says. "There are some good,
dedicated people. They're struggling. They've no budgets, no

Copyright 2013 ABC News
























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