Tampa attorney convicted of child sex abuse in Cambodia

Rugh Cline was sentenced to 2 ½ years in prison on charges of sexually abusing three underage girls.
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Published Nov. 5, 2019|Updated Nov. 5, 2019

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — A Cambodian court has sentenced attorney Rugh James Cline, 39 of Tampa to 2½ years in prison on charges of sexually abusing three underage girls, a court official and social activist said Friday.

Ying Srang, spokesman for the provincial court in Siem Reap, site of the famed Angkor Wat temples, said Cline was convicted Thursday of indecent acts against minors under 15 years of age for paying three girls for sex during visits in February and May this year.

A non-governmental organization that investigates suspected foreign pedophiles in Cambodia, Action Pour Les Enfants, said the victims told police that Cline paid them a total of $120. The group, known by the acronym APLE, identified Cline as a lawyer.

The court ordered Cline, who pleaded not guilty, to pay 15 million riels ($3,750) in compensation to each of the girls.

According to Florida Bar records, Cline graduated from the University of Miami School of Law in 2010 and was admitted to the Florida Bar in November of that year. As of Tuesday, he is still listed as a “member in good standing” on the bar’s web site. The records show that he has not been previously subject to disciplinary measures by the organization.

The Florida Bar confirmed in an email that it is investigating the criminal charges.

Susannah Lyle, the Florida Bar’s Assistant Director of Public Information, said a monitor file is opened when an attorney is facing felony-level charges. Upon conviction of a felony, the Bar will review the court’s order of conviction and then decide whether to petition the Florida Supreme Court for a felony suspension or pursue discipline through a grievance process.

Poverty and poor law enforcement have made Cambodia a magnet for foreign pedophiles, though anti-human trafficking police aided by groups such as APLE try to crack down on sex offenders.

"I welcome the verdict, however the crime of purchase of child prostitution should have been charged as the offender took advantage of the victims, coercing them with money," APLE's executive director, Seila Samleang, said in a statement. "This would've represented a longer jail sentence." The penalty for purchase of child prostitution is seven to 15 years' imprisonment when the child is under 15 years old.

Seila Samleang urged Cambodian authorities to deport foreign sex offenders after they complete their prison terms because they could pose a risk to other local children.

Times staff writer Brandon Meyer contributed to this report.