A Virginia man was sentenced to a decade in federal prison on Thursday for, in the words of a prosecutor, “absconding” with a Washington County minor and taking her to his home in Alexandria to continue their sexual relationship.
U.S. District Judge Joy Flowers Conti imposed that term on Apipat Vutipawat, a 30-year-old native of Thailand who came to the U.S. in 2008.
Vutipawat pleaded guilty last year to traveling with intent to engage in illicit sex and related federal charges following an investigation by police and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Prosecutors and defense agreed on the 10-year sentence and a 10-year term of probation, although they don’t agree on the nature of the offense.
Vutipawat’s lawyer, Douglas Keating, said his client met the girl on a dating site called Secret Benefits and fell in love with her.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Heidi Grogan said he portrayed himself as a wealthy businessman who established a “sugar daddy” relationship with the girl in manipulating her into a sexual relationship and then traveled to Pennsylvania to nab her from the custody of Allegheny County Children and Youth Services.
Vutipawat had been arrested by state police for having illegal sexual contact with the girl and was out on bail when he drove from Alexandria to Pittsburgh to continue his sexual relationship with her.
He pleaded guilty in Washington County court in January 2022 to aggravated indecent assault and was sentenced to 3½ to seven years in state prison.
The U.S. attorney’s office brought its own case in 2021 on counts of traveling for sex and obstruction of justice.
“Mr. Vutipawat demonstrated incredible disregard for the law when, after having already been arrested in state court for having illegal sexual contact with Minor A, he unlawfully retrieved Minor A from state custody to continue in his criminal sexual relationship with the minor,” Grogan said in a sentencing memo.
She said he initially seduced her online on the Secret Benefits site and induced her into a “sugar daddy-sugar baby relationship.” Keating objected to that characterization, saying the two were boyfriend and girlfriend.
Grogan said the 10-year sentence, followed by the 10 years of probation, will also protect minors in the future, although Keating countered that his client’s attentions were focused only on the girl and he is “not a predator” likely to victimize other children.
Vutipawat was 26 when state police initially arrested him in May 2020 on sex charges involving a minor.
Troopers had responded to a report of a vehicle stuck in the mud in Richhill Township, Greene County. They found Vutipawat and the girl in the car. He said they were on their way to Ryerson State Park when the car got stuck. The girl said he was her boyfriend.
After questioning at the barracks, troopers learned that the two had met online the month before, started meeting in person and then had sex at a hotel in North Strabane in May.
Torsten covers the courts for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.