FBI: Tip led to arrest of ex-professor in Mexico
LOS ANGELES (AP) — A former University of Southern California professor who’s accused of sex crimes involving two children has been deported to the United States after a Mexican citizen recognized his picture in the newspaper and informed the U.S. Embassy, federal authorities said Wednesday.
Walter Lee Williams, 64, will appear in a Los Angeles federal courtroom Thursday to face charges of sexual exploitation of children and traveling abroad for the purpose of engaging in sexual acts with children. He had been placed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list Monday.
A tip from a Mexican citizen who saw a photograph in a local newspaper and contacted the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City led to Williams’ arrest by Mexican authorities, said Bill Lewis, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles field office. The tipster is eligible for the $100,000 reward.
Williams was captured late Tuesday while drinking coffee near a park in the resort town of Playa del Carmen after Mexican authorities created a ruse to lure him to his local coffee shop, said FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller. He was living under a false name, Eimiller said.
Prosecutor Gaspar Armando Garcia Torres said in Cancun, Mexico, that it wasn’t clear how long Williams had been living in Playa del Carmen and that the fugitive also had an address in nearby Cancun, where he was taken and turned over to Mexican immigration officials.
Garcia Torres did not say whether Williams is suspected of committing any crimes in Mexico.
Williams left the resort city of Cancun on Wednesday evening accompanied by two U.S. officials on an LA-bound Virgin America flight. Quintana Roo state prosecutors turned him over to immigration officials Tuesday evening, and he stayed at an immigration office at the Cancun airport until he left for Los Angeles.
Evidence indicates that Williams has at least 10 alleged victims including the 14-year-old boys cited in a federal indictment. Investigators believe he has more victims and have not ruled out additional charges in the case, as evidence shows Williams expressed an interest and pursued victims younger than 14, Eimiller said.
Williams’ arrest is the culmination of a two-year investigation that began in 2011 and required federal agents to travel to foreign countries to interview possible victims, witnesses and their families.
A student at the University of Southern California informed authorities that Williams may have targeted young boys for sex, and the Los Angeles Police Department started to investigate. Soon, FBI agents learned that Williams was returning from a two-week trip to the Philippines; a search warrant was obtained.
Williams was questioned at the airport, and two computers and a camera were confiscated by authorities who found child pornography and evidence he was engaged in sex acts with young boys, said LAPD Assistant Chief Michel Moore.
“I analyzed the computers and the camera that belong to Williams and found child pornography,” agent Jeff Yesensky said in a video about Williams posted on the FBI’s website Monday to bring attention to the case.
“He preys on the most vulnerable children,” Yesensky added.
In February 2011, within weeks of that airport stop, Williams left the country for Mexico. “He dropped his career at USC and went,” Eimiller said.
Until then, Williams was a tenured professor who taught history, anthropology and gender studies.
“USC is fully cooperating with the FBI investigation,” the university said in a statement. “The FBI has informed us that at this time there is no evidence that any of his alleged illegal activities were associated with the university or took place on campus.”
FBI officials believe Williams was continuing to pursue his publishing career while in Mexico.
A federal arrest warrant was issued for the former Palm Springs, Calif., resident in Los Angeles in April.
The four-count indictment alleges Williams traveled from Los Angeles to the Philippines in January 2011 to engage in sex acts with two 14-year-old boys he met online in 2010, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a statement Monday.
“He allegedly engaged in sexual activity via Internet webcam sessions with these boys and expressed a desire to visit them in the Philippines to have sex,” it states.
While in the Philippines, Williams allegedly engaged in sex acts with both boys and produced sexually explicit photos of one of the boys, bringing it back to Los Angeles County. Williams fled the Los Angeles area about a week after returning from the Philippines, the statement said.
Williams was also affiliated with the Buddhist Universal Association of Los Angeles and espoused an ideology that preached extreme sexual freedoms, according to the FBI.
“We believe he was using his position, his credibility as a professor and his ideologies to lure his victims,” Eimiller said. She said investigators also believe he paid for sex.
Williams has traveled extensively for 25 years throughout Southeast Asia, and specifically the Philippines, according to the FBI. He also lived in Indonesia, Polynesia and Thailand and may have traveled to Peru.
“We’re happy this man is off the street (but) we believe there are other victims who have suffered by this man’s actions and we need to talk with them,” said the LAPD’s Moore.