'Evil' Virginia Missionary Handed 23-year Sentence After Traveling to Haiti to Sexually Abuse Children

A Virginia man who traveled to Haiti as a Mennonite missionary to groom and sexually abuse a minor under the age of 12 has been sentenced to 23 years in prison.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said James Daniel Arbaugh, 40, of Stuarts Draft, Virginia, had lived in Haiti for approximately 15 years and traveled regularly back to the U.S. during that time.

During his time in Haiti, Arbaugh traveled as a Mennonite missionary to remote towns and villages where he groomed children and, in at least one case, sexually abused a child, ICE said.

Describing Arbaugh as a "wolf in sheep's clothing," Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski of the Justice Department's Criminal Division said he "posed as a selfless missionary when in reality he was exploiting his position to prey on and sexually abuse vulnerable children in one of the most impoverished areas of the world."

Arbaugh pleaded guilty in February to one count of "traveling in foreign commerce from the U.S. to Haiti in or about 2016 to engage in illicit sexual conduct" with the minor, ICE said in a statement. He admitted to touching the minor's genitals under the child's clothing, ICE said.

On Monday, U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Dillon of the Western District of Virginia sentenced him to 276 months, or 23 years, in prison, to be followed by a life term of supervised release.

"The defendant abused his position of trust to prey on vulnerable victims, and their lives will never be the same," said U.S. Attorney of the Western District of Virginia Thomas Cullen.

Benczkowski said Monday's sentencing was a "testament to the unwavering commitment of our prosecutors and law enforcement partners to hold sexual predators like Arbaugh accountable for their deplorable crimes."

The investigation into Arbaugh's crime was led by ICE's Homeland Security Investigations team in conjunction with the Harrisonburg, Virginia, Police Department.

Related: 19 ICE agents join call to abolish agency in letter to Homeland Security head

"This kind of heinous and evil activity has no place here, abroad or in-transit," said Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Special Agent in Charge Patrick Lechleitner in the ICE statement. "Those seeking to commit such abhorrent crimes and evade detection cannot hide from our highly skilled and dedicated investigators."

The HSI unit made headlines recently after 19 of its agents signed a letter calling on the Trump administration to restructure ICE and abolish the departments tasked with deporting undocumented immigrants. The letter argued there was a perception that ICE agents target immigrants "instead of the transnational criminal organizations that facilitate cross-border crimes impacting our communities and national security."

The HSI said the Trump administration should dissolve the enforcement arm of ICE and instead focus on its investigative team, which works to combat human trafficking, drug smuggling and cybercrime.