Tuesday, July 17, 2007 8:00:00 PM
By MARYCLAIRE DALE
Associated Press Writer
PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- A wealthy motel owner accused of sexually
abusing boys from a poor Eastern European village tossed money
around to ingratiate himself with people he met, a federal
prosecutor said in his opening statement at the man's trial.
Anthony Mark Bianchi, 44, of North Wildwood, N.J., is being
tried under a little-tested 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 on foreign soil.
Bianchi's attorney, high-profile defense lawyer Mark Geragos,
said his client is being falsely accused by Moldovan boys who are
getting what amounts to a swank prosecution-funded trip to the U.S.
in exchange for their testimony.
Four of eight accusers who testified at a closed-door court
hearing in the former Soviet republic recanted, while the others
changed their stories drastically, Geragos said. Prosecutors have
said some of the accusers were too embarrassed to say in their home
country what happened.
Bianchi is accused of assaulting boys from Trebujeni, Moldova, a
remote village of 600 to 700 people, between 2003 and 2005. Federal
prosecutor Michael Levy told jurors the defendant spread his money
around there for sinister reasons.
Bianchi allegedly gave a television and $25 to one family that
innocently let their son stay with him one night, prosecutors said.
"Everything he did was designed to make friends with these
boys," Levy said. "And then, when their guards were down, he
began his advances."
Prosecutors charge that Bianchi, through a local translator who
helped procure the boys, assaulted teenagers in exchange for money,
liquor, gifts and trips, including trips to Cuba and Romania.
Prosecutors suggested that only someone with ulterior motives
would vacation in the isolated village of Trebujeni, where most of
the accusers live, but Geragos said the town draws tourists with
its scenic beauty and hilltop monastery.
"There are no four or five-star amenities, but it's hardly some
impoverished place that no one would ever go," Geragos said.
He described Bianchi -- who with his parents owned a New Jersey
beach motel -- as a veteran traveler who sought out offbeat
destinations. Bianchi liked to stay in small boarding houses to get
to know the locals, Geragos said.
Bianchi was convicted of Russian charges connected to children
from the same village in 2000; he was sentenced to three years in
prison but immediately expelled from the country.
About 50 people, including Bianchi, have been charged to date
under what's known as the Protect Act. About 30 of them have been