A young man from Guatemala stood before U.S. District Judge Jeff Viken in a courtroom in Rapid City on Monday and told how he had been exploited for sexual favors by a Spearfish man, and how it had destroyed his life.
Identified only by his initials, M.G.P.G. told Viken that living with the knowledge that he had allowed Richard W. Melanson to videotape him being whipped on the buttocks and performing sex acts was a secret he painfully held to himself for more than seven years.
“I felt like I was living a nightmare I couldn’t wake up from,” M.G.P.G. said through an interpreter. “With these acts, I've lost a lot of dreams, wishes and hopes,” he said, choking back tears.
A lurid tale of tourism for sex ended Monday with Melanson sentenced to 30 years in federal prison for preying on impoverished young men in Guatemala.
After a day-long sentencing hearing that stretched into the early evening, Viken ordered Melanson, 53, to serve the maximum allowable sentence under federal guidelines for such sexual crimes.
“These were young men desperate for money and possessing things they see on television,” Viken said.
"They were treated like pieces of meat," he said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah B. Collins said Melanson had picked an impoverished part of Central America for travel to look for young boys for sex.
“You had the money, and they had the body you wanted to exploit,” she said to Melanson.
Defense attorney Gary Colbath had argued for a lesser sentence of 10 years imprisonment and five years supervised release, saying Melanson had not physically threatened his victims, who Colbath said knew what Melanson was going to do to them when they had agreed to take money in exchange for sex.
“He did what he said he was going to do,” Colbath said of Melanson. “The reason these sex acts occurred is because of the arrangement they had. They had this agreement.”
Melanson said he knew what he was doing was illegal, but that he never meant to force anyone to do something he didn’t want to do.
He said the trips to Guatemala were part of fulfilling fantasies that were part of a midlife crisis.
“I know what I did and how I did it was wrong,” Melanson said. “I had to believe they were able to consent.”
Melanson pleaded guilty in August to traveling outside the country to engage in illicit sex with minors.
According to federal documents, Melanson was already serving a state sentence on a 4th Circuit Court conviction for 10 counts of possessing child pornography.
Investigators from the South Dakota Internet Crimes Against Children task force entered the case and noticed videos of young Spanish-speaking boys being whipped on the buttocks or being forced to perform other sexual acts.
An investigation by the Department of Homeland Security found that Melanson had traveled to Guatemala in 2007, 2008 and again in 2010.
Using images from the videos, Guatemalan police located two boys who they said had been offered money to pose for whipping videos and also engage in sex acts.
Another victim, identified as D.A.P.M., who also been subjected to appearing in a video as a 17-year-old in 2010, told Viken that a meeting with Melanson had been arranged by another man, identified as B.T.R.
“He (Melanson) said he was a good person, and I learned later he was not,” D.A.P.M. said.
In May of 2014, a federal grand jury indicted Melanson on charges of possession of child pornography, producing child pornography transported to the United States, and travel with intent to engage in illicit sexual activity.
Melanson initially pleaded not guilty to the charges, but later pleaded guilty to traveling outside the U.S. for the purpose of engaging in illicit sexual acts with minors.