Many parents felt lucky that Eric Toth taught their children at Washington’s exclusive Beauvoir school. He was dedicated, energetic and generous with his time, tutoring some students for free while babysitting for others.
But even as he charmed adults and kids alike, Toth stashed cameras disguised as air fresheners in a school restroom and a student’s home so he could capture intimate videos of children, authorities said. He recorded 15 in all.
The third-grade teacher also produced pornographic videos of a 10-year-old student in his classroom and later at the boy’s home in Maryland as he slept. When Toth’s activities were discovered in 2008, he vanished.
More than five years later and after a stint on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List, a faked suicide and a life on the run that took him across the United States and Nicaragua, the 31-year-old finally went before a federal judge Thursday to face his crimes. He pleaded guilty to five charges, including three counts of producing child pornography, in U.S. District Court in Washington.
He faces up to 30 years in prison when he is sentenced March 11.
“Today’s plea was very significant,” U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. said after the hearing. “He was a serial predator.”
Toth was arrested in April in Nicaragua with more than 1,100 images of child pornography apparently downloaded from the Internet, but his own exploitation of children had begun years earlier, court documents show.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Cassidy Pinegar said in court that Toth had produced a pornographic video and photos of a 10-year-old boy when he worked as a camp counselor in Wisconsin in 2005.
Toth moved to the D.C. area later that year and began teaching at Beauvoir, whose parents have included U.S. senators, White House staff members and top entrepreneurs.
Toth became intimately involved in some of his student’s lives — so much so that classmates referred to the boys as “Tothies.”
A school employee discovered pornographic images on a camera assigned to Toth in 2008. Paula Carreiro, then the head of the school, confronted Toth, and he was escorted off campus. He quickly disappeared before he could be arrested.
In the following years, Toth was placed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List and featured on “America’s Most Wanted.” His face was plastered on a gigantic billboard in New York’s Times Square and other spots across the country.
But authorities said he was a wily fugitive. He spent time at a Phoenix homeless shelter, where he told people that he had taken a vow of poverty. He worked as a computer technician and technical writer in Austin and was even scheduled to speak at a tech conference.
He also pleaded guilty Thursday to a charge of giving one of his employers someone else’s Social Security number and stealing the identity of another person, using it to obtain a passport. Toth traveled to Nicaragua in October 2012 and might have continued on the run had an American tourist not spotted him at a party and reported him.
“He gained the trust of kids and parents. He used that trust to exploit them,” said Timothy Gallagher, special agent in charge of the Criminal Division of the FBI’s Washington Field Office. “He was not going to stop until he was caught.”