BOSTON — A man with ties to the North Shore is facing child sex trafficking charges after allegedly inviting several teenage Laotian boys to live with him, then telling them they could cover their rent by performing sexual acts on him, federal prosecutors say.
Michael Sebastian, 52, is being held in federal custody following an initial appearance via video Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Boston. A detention hearing is scheduled for Monday afternoon.
In court filings, prosecutors allege that Sebastian, who ran an organization called SMILEProject and taught English to Laotians, invited a series of teenage boys to live with him in Luang Prabang, Laos, charging them the equivalent of $11 a month in rent.
The boys, who ranged in age from 14 to 17, were from impoverished backgrounds. Prosecutors say Sebastian would give them credits worth the equivalent of $1 for each time they "massaged" him.
The allegations first came to light last year, when another American living in Laos reported to authorities that several boys had disclosed what was happening.
In the court filing, FBI special agent Brian O'Sullivan said Sebastian would keep track of the "credits" by sending the boys emails, which investigators obtained through a subpoena.
Sebastian, before moving to Laos in 2010, previously lived in California, but used a Swampscott post office box as his address. Investigators compared that license photo to other images of Sebastian, including one from an online news website that interviewed him in 2012.
Sebastian returned to the United States earlier this year and was living with his mother in Lynn, where he was arrested on Tuesday.
In March, he gave a presentation on his work at Temple Sinai in Marblehead.
Sebastian also promoted his program online, saying on its website that he offered "education, nutritional aid, and healthcare assistance to impoverished, abandoned, orphaned, and underprivileged youth lacking the funds and resources for quality education and nourishment."
"The project is committed to sharing heartfelt knowledge so that educational gains not only activate the mind, they are also felt and understood in the depths of the heart, and shared from there with one's whole being, and indeed with the entire universe," the website says.
While the charges arise from conduct in Laos, United States law gives American authorities jurisdiction over such crimes when they are committed by United States citizens.
If found guilty of both charges, he could face up to 40 years in prison.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis.