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Rife pleads guilty to sexually assaulting small children in Cambodia

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FRANKFORT- A Salyersville native pleaded guilty in federal court last week, admitting that he engaged and attempted to engage in illicit sexual conduct with two minor females while he traveled and resided in Cambodia. 

On Thursday, January 16, Micky Rife, 36, formerly of Salyersville, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Court Judge Gregory F. Van Tatenhove. According to the press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Rife admitted in his plea agreement that between September 3, 2012, and December 9, 2018, he traveled in foreign commerce, and between March 7, 2013 and December 9, 2018, he resided in Cambodia, and that during those time frames, he touched two minor females under their clothing and inside or on their genital areas on more than one occasion. He further admitted that both minor victims were under the age of 12 when the illicit conduct occurred.  

Rife was previously indicted on two separate counts of the same offense in February 2019, and he pleaded guilty to one count last Thursday. 

In the original criminal complaint filed on January 24, 2019, against Rife, alleging that while he was in Cambodia teaching, from September 2012 until December 2018, he had sexually assaulted a 5-year-old girl. During the investigation, however, investigators uncovered other allegations of sexual abuse regarding Rife, dating back to 2013.

In the affidavit filed supporting the criminal complaint, Michael H. Romagnoli, a special agent for the Department of Homeland Security, stated there was probable cause to believe that Rife had violated federal laws concerning engaging in illicit sexual conduct in foreign places, justifying a warrant, which was served the same day. 

According to court documents, in September 2012 Rife traveled to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and was employed as a teacher at the Hi-Bridge International School of Phnom Penh, until December 5, 2018, returning to the United States on December 9, 2018.  Upon returning to the U.S., he told law enforcement he was staying with multiple relatives until he could find a place, but his last-known address was in Salyersville.

Reportedly, Homeland Security Investigations Phnom Penh, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) at the United States Embassy received information in 2013 in reference to Rife and his alleged unusual behavior with students. According to Romagnoli’s affidavit, no substantial information about the sexual allegations could be established at that time.

On February 20, 2018, Rife’s ex-girlfriend contacted the U.S. Embassy, giving them information about the teacher (later identified as Rife) who had allegedly sexually assaulted a Cambodian female student who was approximately 5 years of age at the time of the assault. She also told them she had been in a long-term relationship with Rife and they had adopted a Cambodian female child, approximately 2 years old at the time of the report. She voiced concerns to the Embassy official that Rife was sexually abusing their adopted child and that he may leave Cambodia and take the child with him.

A former vice principal at Hi-Bridge where Rife taught told the Foreign Service National Investigator that she knew of two children who attended the school who had been molested by Rife, one in 2013 and another in 2015. She provided a copy of a written warning memorandum that had been provided to Rife in 2013 to address his “misconduct and inappropriate behavior with children at the school.”

Homeland Security interviewed the mother of two girls who attended the school, who reported that in the spring of 2015 one of her daughters, approximately 4 years old, told her she was having pain when she urinated. After seeking medical treatment, the daughter reportedly told the mother Rife would touch her during breaks at school, describing he had touched her under her underwear and that Rife “would inappropriately touch the girls at the school and not the boys,” according to the report.

The mother also overheard her two daughters talking when one asked if the other remembered, “when Rife would throw them in the air and catch them and when doing so would place his hands underneath their skirts and touch” their private areas. When asked, the daughter said that, “Rife would touch all the girls at the school in the manner previously described.”

In March and April 2018 Homeland Security officers and social work officers conducted multiple interviews with the little girls, all between the ages of 4 and 8 when the alleged assaults occurred. The girls described similar instances involving Rife allegedly inappropriately touching them under their underwear on multiple occasions, and even describing painful penetration.  

While it is unclear if any action was taken between April and December, on December 5, 2018, Rife was terminated from his position as a teacher at the school, and then re-entered the U.S. on December 9, 2018. Upon re-entry, he was sent to a secondary screening and inspected by a U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officer. Reportedly, that officer found a notebook with notes on what he believed to be Rife’s child’s bathroom usage, as well as found texts and messages on his phone from unknown persons asking questions about him leaving, such as “Why did you leave?” and “Did you do something bad?”

The officer made copies of pages in Rife’s notebook, which reportedly contained references to pornographic websites, usernames, passwords, games, websites, and a page which was in another language. 

Rife told the Customs officer that he left Cambodia and his job on good terms, and that he didn’t get paid enough money, so he was returning to seek better employment. He reported that he planned to stay with his brother or his mother.

The brother he had told law enforcement he planned to stay with in Owensboro is actually on parole for a similar offense. Rife’s twin, Ricky Rife, was convicted in 2014 on a felony charge of sexual abuse, first degree, victim under 12 years of age (violent crime). He was sentenced to 7 years, but was released on parole in July 2017 and is a registered sex offender. 

Robert M. Duncan, Jr., United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Kentucky, Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Jerry Templet, Special Agent in Charge, Department of Homeland Security- Homeland Security Investigations (DHS-HSI), SAC Nashville, and Rodney Brewer, Commissioner, Kentucky State Police jointly announced the guilty plea.

The investigation was conducted in Cambodia and Kentucky by HSI and the Kentucky State Police. The United States was represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney David A. Marye and Trial Attorney Lauren S. Kupersmith of the Child Obscenity and Exploitation Section of the U.S. Department of Justice. 

Rife is scheduled to be sentenced on May 27, 2020. He faces up to 30 years in prison and lifetime supervised release, and a maximum fine of $250,000. However, any sentence will be imposed by the Court after consideration of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and the federal sentencing statutes. 

At press time Rife is still being held at the Franklin County Regional Jail, where he has been since his arrest.

Editor's Note: The indictment or charge of a person by a grand jury or otherwise is an accusation only and that person is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.
 

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Heather Oney

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