American acquitted of paying for sex with minor

An American whose life was turned upside down after he was accused of paying for sex with a minor, expressed his relief after the charge was dropped yesterday.

Former senior manager Payton Scott Velo, 45, who maintained that the allegation was false, was visibly emotional as he walked out of court after getting an effective acquittal yesterday.

“It’s like you were in a coma for 14 months and suddenly you wake up and you realise a year of your life has gone that you can never get back,” said Mr Velo, who attempted suicide after being charged last year.

“It’s a hard allegation to get past… The plans are to recover, and I don’t know what that means, to be honest, at this point,” he told The Straits Times.

Mr Velo was one of 12 men nabbed during a raid on an online vice ring involving the prostitute, who was 16 at the time.

The Straits Times understands that the US citizen was given a discharge amounting to an acquittal, bringing the total number of those acquitted to four out of the dozen men charged. Mr Velo, who was in court yesterday with his lawyer R. Thrumurgan of Trident Law, said he had been prepared to fight the accusations at trial and was surprised by the news of the discharge. The acquittal comes just under a year after his attempted suicide upon learning about the charge brought against him.

He was found perched naked on the roof of his five-storey condominium in Telok Kurau on June 19, a day before his scheduled first appearance in court, and agreed to come down after a five-hour stand-off. He was then arrested and warded at the Institute of Mental Health.

He described that episode as a “severe loss of mental faculty”.

Mr Velo said he is looking forward to the “long recovery” ahead of him, after having lost his job and being evicted from his apartment. He has also had to relocate his wife and two children – wife and daughter to Japan, son to the US – because they could no longer live here as his dependants.

Among the other three men acquitted was Mr Ng Kheng Siang. The 44-year-old businessman, the only one to claim trial, was acquitted after arguing that the prostitute’s bloodshot eyes had deterred him from sex. The two others – Mr Dzul Hilmie Ramli, 33, and Mr Mohamed Yazid Bashir, 28 – were also granted discharges amounting to acquittals.

Responding to queries from The Straits Times about the basis of the discharges, the Attorney-General’s Chambers said it was “unable to provide further information… as the respective applications were granted in chambers during pre-trial conferences”.

The remaining eight accused were convicted and jailed for up to 12 weeks.

In February, pimp Malcolm Graham Head, 33, who had tricked the minor into providing sexual services and fed her Ice to keep her awake, was sentenced to seven years’ corrective training and seven strokes of the cane. He was also given a 16-year driving ban.

Head’s then girlfriend Veronica Patricia Rio, 19, with whom he had assaulted the minor, was sent for reformative training.

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