Ex-Peace Corps worker admits to abusing girls

June 27, 2012 - 6:06 PM

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A former Peace Corps volunteer admitted Wednesday he sexually abused four young girls while serving in South Africa.

Jesse Osmun pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Hartford to traveling from the United States to engage in illicit sexual conduct with children. Authorities say the victims were 3 to 6 years old at the time.

"While serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in South Africa, Mr. Osmun committed horrific, unforgivable crimes," said Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer. "He was supposed to be helping young children in need, many of whom were orphans, but instead, he preyed upon them, sexually abusing several young girls under the age of six. He betrayed the Peace Corps and the children he had traveled to South Africa to help."

His attorney, Richard Meehan Jr., described Osmun as remorseful.

"He has been amazingly candid with respect to his conduct, which is obviously extremely distressing, and he's never wavered from the fact that he visited these wrongs on the young children," Meehan said.

Osmun faces up to 30 years in prison and restitution to his victims when he is sentenced Sept. 11. Under guidelines, he faces between 14 to more than 21 years.

Authorities say Osmun persuaded the children to engage in illicit sexual acts by playing games with them and providing them with candy

Osmun, who worked at a center that provides support to residents affected by the AIDS virus, said he helped supervise children and was left alone with them for 10 to 30 minutes and recognized that as an opportunity to engage in illicit sexual conduct.

Osmun said he touched one girl's genitals and masturbated in front of her. He said he engaged in similar conduct with the other three girls. Osmun admitted that he engaged in acts with one of his victims twice per week for about five months.

"I fully accept responsibility for my actions," Osmun told the judge.

The Peace Corps has said it was made aware of the allegations after Osmun resigned.

"The crimes of this former volunteer are reprehensible," said Peace Corps Director Aaron S. Williams in a statement Wednesday. "The Peace Corps has no tolerance for abuse of any kind, and our deepest sympathies are with all the victims involved."

Williams praised the investigation of the Peace Corps Office of Inspector General, the Department of Justice, ICE Homeland Security Investigations and the South African Police Service. As part of the agency's process for determining if an applicant is suitable for Peace Corps service, every applicant undergoes a background check.

"The Peace Corps is committed to ensuring that the children affected by these crimes receive proper care and treatment," Williams said.

The Peace Corps traces its roots to 1960, when then-U.S. Sen. John F. Kennedy challenged Michigan university students to serve their country by living and working in developing nations. From that inspiration, its website says, grew into a federal government agency "devoted to world peace and friendship."

Peace Corps volunteers, who are provided with a living allowance and receive transition funds after they complete 27 months of service, provide hands-on assistance in areas including health education, information technology and environmental preservation. The Peace Corps has sent more than 200,000 Americans to serve in 139 countries.