BOSTON — A North Shore man charged with sexually exploiting teenage boys in Laos while teaching and running a charity there is set to be released as early as Friday, after a judge agreed to a plan for house arrest.
Michael Sebastian, 52, will be required to live with his cousins in Ashby, a town in north central Massachusetts, while he awaits trial on charges of child sex trafficking and engaging in illicit sexual conduct in a foreign country.
"After consideration of the evidence presented and the parties’ respective arguments, the court finds easily that the defendant’s release would at a minimum pose a serious risk of danger, particularly given the nature and circumstances of the offenses," U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Donald Cabell said in a ruling issued Thursday. "That being said, the court cannot find that there is no combination of conditions of release which reasonably could be expected to ensure the safety of the community if followed."
The conditions also include a $25,000 secured bond, electronic monitoring and confinement to the home except for legal or medical appointments or with advance permission of a probation officer. Sebastian must also surrender his passport and any other travel documents in his possession, not use any computers or connect to the internet, and have no contact with any victims or witnesses in the case.
In his view, Cabell wrote, "the conditions set forth below, if adopted and followed, would sufficiently mitigate the risk of danger posed by the defendant’s release so as to warrant release."
Prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney's office sought pre-trial detention, citing not only the potential danger Sebastian posed to children but the potential for Sebastian, with his extensive history of international travel and connections throughout the world, to flee the country. Sebastian had lived in Laos for a decade prior to his arrest.
Sebastian is being held at the Wyatt Detention Facility in Rhode Island. The judge will conduct a hearing on Friday by videoconference to put the order into effect.
Sebastian was arrested earlier this month at his mother's home in Lynn, several months after returning to the United States.
Investigators in Laos and the FBI began investigating after receiving information that Sebastian was offering to let impoverished teenage boys live in his home for a rent that is the U.S. equivalent of $11 a month. To earn "credits" toward that amount, the boys would be asked to give Sebastian massages that included sex acts, prosecutors allege. The boys, who were between the ages of 14 and 17 at the time, would earn $1 off their rent for each act, prosecutors allege.
The incidents were allegedly documented in emails sent by Sebastian to the boys. Investigators acquired those emails through a subpoena to Google.
Sebastian ran a program called the SMILE Project, which raised money to provide education to children and teenagers in Laos, one of the poorest nations in Southeast Asia.
Some of the fundraising took place on the North Shore. Sebastian, who attended school in Marblehead and also lived in Swampscott at one time, had appeared at Temple Sinai in March.
During a hearing two weeks ago, his attorney explained a large amount of cash found in Sebastian's bank account and in envelopes in his mother's home as donations for the charity, which also raised funds through another nonprofit called the Earth Rights Institute.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at email@example.com or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis.