MONEY CAN'T BUY FREDOM: Thomas Frank White was apprehended in Pattaya -- a spot known for its rampant boy-prostitution -- after being spotted on the beach
Monday, May 12, 2003, Page 6
Four years ago, street children in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, came forth with allegations that a man they called "Senor Tom" had lured boys into his splendorous home -- with video games, drugs, pornography and money -- then molested them.
When Mexican authorities issued a warrant for the arrest of Thomas Frank White, charging him with corruption of minors and rape, the 68-year-old multimillionaire from San Francisco disappeared.
Last September, White resurfaced in Thailand, planting himself in Pattaya, a beach resort two hours southeast of Bangkok where many tourists seek out sex. Children's advocates recognized him and police moved in.
"It seems that when people are running, often they will come here [Thailand] and the Philippines," said Bruce Harris, the executive director of Casa Alianza, a Latin American children's rights group.
Coincidentally, Harris was in Bangkok for a meeting when White was arrested.
The existence of such pedophile havens isn't hard to explain. In these two countries, and others like Cambodia, Brazil and Mexico, poverty has spawned widespread prostitution of children, laws are lax and police are corrupt. And when authorities crack down on child sex offenders in one country, they simply move on to another.
After White left Puerto Vallarta, Mexican authorities located him in San Francisco, Ecuador, Dominican Republic, Russia and Hong Kong. Thai police say he also traveled to and from Cambodia and the Philippines.
At the request of Mexican authorities, White was arrested Feb. 11 in the lobby of Bangkok's luxury Oriental Hotel. Mexico filed an extradition request in early April, and a hearing is scheduled for Wednesday.
White's attorneys say he is not guilty of any crime, though he is facing significant legal proceedings in Thailand, Mexico and the US.
"In each case, Mr. White's attorneys are vigorously defending him in the appropriate courts and will continue to defend against both the civil and criminal allegations in those courts and not in the press," his attorney in San Francisco, Nanci Clarence, said in response to a query.
White made his millions as an investor and stockbroker in San Francisco, continuing his business deals even after taking up residence in Puerto Vallarta.
Supporting the habit According to the San Francisco Chronicle, one of White's assets, Lombard Institutional Brokerage, a discount and Internet stock trading firm he founded in 1992 with US$13,000 in venture capital, was sold in 1997 for US$70 million. White pocketed almost half that amount.
The newspaper reported in a recent article that White owns five residential properties in San Francisco, including his primary home, which have a current market value of at least US$6 million.
In the early 1990s, White started to become a familiar face in Puerto Vallarta. He owned a hotel there and was known as a philanthropist and model citizen who rubbed shoulders with city officials and high society.
In September 2000, Puerto Vallarta gave White a permit to build a US$4 million center for street kids, raising an outcry from children's advocates that halted the project.
The first allegations against White were filed with Mexican authorities in July 1999. The Mexican attorney general's office said that from February 1997 to September 2000, White invited boys between 10 and 14 years old to his house for sex in exchange for alcohol, drugs and money.
One 14-year-old boy detailed a night in 1999 when Senor Tom came to the beach in Puerto Vallarta and invited him and several of his friends to White's home, called the "Casa Blanca," or "White House," where the boys took off their clothes as soon as they arrived.
They went swimming with White, who offered them marijuana, cocaine, ecstasy and a drink that they claimed induced erections, the boy told the Foundation for Kidnapped and Missing Children in Mexico.
According to the boys' testimonials to the foundation, White had sex with them in a room with two big beds and two televisions -- one screening pornography and the other for the boys to play Nintendo. There were a lot of computers. He also allegedly photographed them and paid them up to 1,000 pesos (US$90).
Harris, of Casa Alianza, said 79 children have complained about White.
He faces more charges in California, where he allegedly abused a 17-year-old boy, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Daniel Garcia, now 20, is suing White for alleged sex abuse in White's San Francisco home.
Thai authorities are unable to say exactly what White was doing in Thailand for five months before he was arrested. Past court cases in Southeast Asia have revealed how Western pedophiles often build new lives in other places. Some take on legitimate jobs -- working as teachers or in orphanages -- to maintain a steady supply of young children.
Thailand: misfits' paradise One case involved American Eric Franklin Rosser, who was the first child-pornography suspect to make the FBI's 10 most wanted list. Rosser allegedly sent pornography between Thailand and Indiana. He had been working as a pianist at Oriental Hotel and gave music lessons to children of upper class Thai families at his home.
Rosser, who once played keyboard for rock star John Mellencamp, was arrested in Thailand in February 2000 is now jailed in Indiana awaiting trial.
In recent years, Thailand has taken a tougher stance on sex crimes and has extradition treaties with several countries, but it remains notorious for its gigantic sex industry. Children's advocates see White's arrest as a positive step forward for Thailand.
"Until authorities here send clear messages, such as the arrest of this guy ... people will still come here," Harris said.
But, he noted, the crackdown in Southeast Asia is forcing suspected pedophiles to move to Central America. "The problem doesn't go away."
As White was taken from police custody to a Bangkok prison on Feb. 12, he was asked by reporters about his actions.
White did not reply, but emitted a brief, stifled laugh as police put him in a red Mercedes-Benz to take him to prison.