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Head of Utah charity organization accused of participating in ‘sex tourism’

Law enforcers had reason to believe that Kenneth Merlin Richens was involved in sex tourism and seized his phone, according to the charges

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A 17-year-old girl riding her bike in Tremonton was killed when she was hit by a garbage truck Tuesday morning.

Salt Lake Police investigate a scene in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022. A Nephi man is facing allegations accusing him of possessing child pornography and participating in “sex tourism,” or going to other countries where children are commonly trafficked.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

The Utah owner of a nonprofit charitable organization that provides educational support for children is now accused of traveling to other countries to participate in “sex tourism.”

Kenneth Merlin Richens, 60, of Nephi, has been charged with 10 counts of sexual exploitation of a minor, a second-degree felony.

Richens is the owner of the Ken and Darlene Richens Family Education Initiatives Inc., which charging documents state is "an international charity organization that provides educational support for children in Cambodia and the Philippines."

But prosecutors believes Richens was participating in "sex tourism" when he went to those countries, which is "when a person travels to another nation where children are commonly trafficked for sexual abuse with the purpose of sexually abusing children in those nations."

When Richens recently returned from a trip to the Philippines, he was searched at the SeaTac International Airport in Seattle. Law enforcers had reason to believe that Richens was involved in sex tourism, the charges state, and seized his phone. Child pornography was discovered when his phone was searched, according to charging documents.

"Metadata associated with these files shows that Richens possessed the (child pornography) in Nephi prior to travelling to the Philippines," the charges allege.

On Thursday, when agents from the Department of Homeland Security went to Richens' Nephi home to arrest him, they discovered he was gone. He was arrested the next day in Washington County and has since been transferred to the Juab County Jail. His next court appearance is scheduled for May 23.

Richens "has traveled to the Philippines 49 times since 2011. The Philippines is a nation where sex tourism is not uncommon. (He) has also traveled to other southeast Asian nations associated with sex tourism, such as Thailand and Cambodia," according to charging documents.