FORT LAUDERDALE — A West Palm Beach man will stand trial beginning today for booking what he thought was a trip to Costa Rica to visit a teen prostitute, according to federal prosecutors.
Jorge Muentes, 48, booked his trip through a fake travel agency that was actually run by the FBI. When he attempted to board his flight from Miami International Airport to San Jose on Nov. 15, federal authorities arrested him and accused him of trying to arrange sex with a minor overseas.
U.S. authorities have charged more than 70 people with similar crimes since 2003, usually heading to countries like Cambodia, Thailand, the Philippines and Costa Rica. Many of those convicted were arrested and charged after having sex with underage victims, but Muentes never actually met with a child.
Law enforcement officials say they are catching would-be offenders before they strike, but defense lawyers say the stings punish what might be no more than a fantasy.
"I'm all for catching child predators," Muentes' attorney, David O. Markus, wrote in a brief. "The problem is instead of netting the real criminals, this sting draws in innocent people like Jorge Muentes."
In a court filing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Rashbaum defended the charges, saying Muentes took concrete steps toward having sexual contact with a teenager by paying for the trip and attempting to board a plane.
Muentes called the FBI's undercover travel agency in September 2007 after seeing an advertisement in an adult magazine, according to court records. Muentes asked for dates with two female escorts, a 14- to 16-year-old as well as a 21-to 24-year-old, prosecutors said.
But even if Muentes considered having sex with a teenager, there is no evidence he would have acted on those desires once in Costa Rica, Markus said.
Muentes has no criminal record or history of abusing children, Markus said. If convicted, he faces a mandatory 10-year sentence.