By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 29, 2010; A01
Former Manassas teacher Kevin Ricks was charged in federal court Wednesday on child pornography counts in what officials said was an effort to ensure he stays in jail after a plea hearing Thursday on state charges.
The new charges, filed in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, come five months after Ricks was arrested at Osbourn High School on charges of molesting a former student. In that case, Ricks is accused of getting a 16-year-old drunk on beer and tequila before performing sex acts on him.
In court documents filed Wednesday, authorities said they discovered photographs on Ricks's laptop computer and at his home in Federalsburg, Md., showing former students naked or in sexual positions. The photographs were taken in Federalsburg, Danville, Va., San Francisco and Japan, authorities said.
Wednesday's charges stem from the images on the laptop and others found in the search that followed his arrest in February. Even though many of the images show former students who have alleged abuse, authorities are using federal child pornography statutes to charge Ricks because those are easier to prosecute than years-old sexual assaults. The charges filed Wednesday carry a maximum sentence of up to 30 years in prison.
A four-month Washington Post investigation, published Sunday, detailed Ricks's pattern of obsession, infatuation, pursuit, sexual abuse and international child exploitation. The article described the contents of Ricks's journals and his meticulous documentation of the abuse of several teenagers who had been in his care.
In interviews with victims and their families, The Post found allegations of abuse that dated to 1978 in North Carolina and included cases in Japan, Danville, Federalsburg and, most recently, Manassas -- all locations where Ricks worked with children. The San Francisco case involved a student from Japan whom Ricks had taken on a cross-country U.S. vacation.
Over a 27-year teaching career, Ricks was able to elude traps set to catch predators, and he moved between private and public schools, never obtaining a full teaching license, The Post's investigation found. He hosted exchange students whom he plied with gifts, event tickets and attention, some of whom ended up as victims shortly before their departures. When suspicions arose, school systems and foreign exchange companies found ways to get rid of Ricks but left no marks on his record.
After Ricks was arrested at Osbourn on Feb. 18, police and federal authorities discovered the child pornography, including homemade videos and photographs of numerous boys whom he has known throughout the years as a teacher, foreign exchange host, tutor and camp counselor.
Authorities also found stacks of handwritten journals that detailed abuse of numerous boys dating to the 1970s. FBI agent S.R. Miller wrote in the criminal complaint filed Wednesday that "hundreds of entries describe sexual acts with a number of conscious and unconscious minor males at a variety of locations. The entries also describe taking pictures of several of the minor male victims."
During an interview with police after his arrest, Ricks told a detective that the teachers union "had advised him in the past that he had been 'walking a thin line,' " the court documents say. Manassas schools had been warned in 2008 that Ricks appeared to be stalking a student he was tutoring in Fauquier County, but officials determined that they could not prove a crime and could not dismiss him. He is charged with abusing the Manassas student one year later.
The court documents affirm what victims told The Post about how Ricks plied them with alcohol before abuse: "Most of the depicted victims appeared to be incapacitated," Miller wrote.
Rachel Clark, a longtime friend of Ricks's who said she became suspicious of his actions when he was teaching in Maryland, said Wednesday that Ricks's secret life has left victims all over the world. She said he deserves to be punished, and she welcomed the federal charges.
"I think he should be there longer than the jail is standing," Clark said. "He should be under the jail."
Ricks, 50, is expected to plead guilty in Prince William County Circuit Court to one charge of indecent liberties with a minor in connection with the sex acts on the 16-year-old former student in Manassas. As part of a plea deal, more serious charges of sexual battery are to be dropped. Prosecutors and police wanted to secure the deal so Ricks would be registered as a sex offender and unable to teach again.
It is unclear what effect, if any, the federal charges will have on the negotiated plea.
According to court documents, Ricks was carrying at least eight images of child pornography on the computer he had with him at school when he was arrested.
Manassas Schools Superintendent Gail Pope said that the laptop was Ricks's personal computer and that the schools have no legal authority to search teachers' personal belongings.
"It's a tragedy beyond all words," Pope said. "But . . . at least we stopped a monster. I'm just sorry we had to incur him here."
The same computer also held a chat transcript with a victim who says Ricks molested him in Ricks's family home in Roanoke Rapids, N.C., in 1978, when Ricks was 18 and the victim, who is deaf, was 10. The victim's family told The Post that the two met at a summer camp for children with disabilities and that Ricks offered to host the boy for the summer when the boy's mother was going through a divorce.
"According to Victim 2, one night while Ricks's parents were out, Ricks had Victim 2 undress and engage in sexually explicit conduct with Ricks," the court affidavit said.
In a statement Friday, Ricks did not deny the allegations and said he is seeking "forgiveness and atonement" for what he called "failures" in his life. Family members reached in North Carolina on Wednesday declined to comment, saying that they are just learning about the allegations. Ricks's attorney on the state charges could not be reached.
Staff writer Jennifer Buske contributed to this report.