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A former graduate assistant at the University of Nebraska at Omaha will have to spend 17½ years in federal prison for coercing and enticing a 15-year-old girl whom he'd been hired to tutor into a sexual relationship.

Zhijun Xia, a Chinese national, will be sent back there after he serves the sentence. 

There is no parole in federal prison. 

In a Lincoln courtroom Friday, the 30-year-old told U.S. District Judge John Gerrard he was "not a pervert," but a man with dignity and of good nature, and was deeply sorry for his wrongdoing. 

"I never mean to hurt anybody," Xia said. "I feel terrible for putting her in a situation that she was not supposed to be (in), and I ask for forgiveness." 

Attorney Steven Lefler said except for this huge mistake, Xia has led a good life.

It was absolutely a crime, and he needs to be punished, Lefler said, but in lots of parts of the world, 27-year-olds still are getting together with 15-year-olds. 

"This is not like having sex with a monkey or something like that," he said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Sean Lynch said history is replete with examples of women being abused and mistreated, but that shouldn't be the metric for this case or sentence.

Gerrard stepped in to say he would be following the statutes as passed by Congress, not what happens elsewhere. 

Lynch argued for a term of nearly 22 years, the high end of the federal guideline range, saying Xia had been entrusted to teach the girl and abused that trust.

"It's about the actions of the defendant," he said. "This case involved the defendant taking a tutoring opportunity of a high-school-aged girl and quickly turning it into a sexual predatory relationship."

He said on July 10, 2018, within 16 days of meeting the girl he'd been hired to tutor Chinese, Xia drove to Lincoln, where the girl was at a summer camp at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, took her to a hotel and sexually assaulted her under state law. 

Xia was 27 at the time. The girl was 15, too young to consent.

He later pleaded guilty to coercion and enticement of a minor.

"I struggle to find any sort of credence with the idea that Mr. Xia did not know that his conduct was illegal," Lynch said. 

In the end, Gerrard told Xia his actions were totally inappropriate and -- more importantly -- illegal. The law is designed for situations exactly like this where two individuals are not on equal footing, he said. 

"That is the law. There is a reason for the law. And ignorance of the law is no excuse," Gerrard said. 

And he sentenced Xia to the prison time and $3,000 restitution. 

The FBI, Omaha Police Department, the University of Nebraska at Omaha Police Department and the Lincoln Police Department investigated the case.

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This article originally ran on journalstar.com.

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