By Josh White and Dana Hedgpeth
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, March 3, 2011; 10:22 PM
Kevin Ricks, the former teacher who molested a Manassas high school student, pleaded guilty Thursday to seven new federal charges of producing and possessing child pornography, ensuring that one of the region's most notorious sex offenders will spend significant time in prison.
The plea, in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, came as part of a deal to secure a long sentence for Ricks and spare several victims from having to testify publicly at trials.
Law enforcement officials said Ricks, who had a decades-long teaching career, has agreed to a 25-year prison sentence for creating explicit photographs and videos of teenage foreign exchange students he hosted in his home and of students he taught in Japan. Much of the abuse occurred while the teens were passed out after Ricks had provided them with large amounts of tequila. More than a dozen teenagers say they were molested by Ricks or targeted by him.
Prosecutors called Ricks a dangerous sexual predator who got teenagers to trust him. "He joined their churches, their youth groups," U.S. Attorney Neil H. MacBride said. "He took up tennis, sports. He took them to concerts. His M.O. was to use his considerable charms and charisma to get their defenses down, get them drunk and then sexually assault them. He was a master manipulator."
The federal charges stem from specific incidents in Virginia and Maryland - where Ricks taught at high schools - and from West Coast journeys Ricks took with several students.
Ricks acknowledged his actions in a series of recent interviews with The Washington Post. "I have to concede," Ricks said, "I never considered for a minute that these were children. But I did take these pictures. . . . I've done enough to warrant the time."
On Thursday, Ricks stood before U.S. District Judge James C. Cacheris as the charges were read.
When asked how he pleaded to each count, Ricks replied "guilty" seven times.
As part of the agreement, Ricks agreed to be subject to a lifetime of supervised release on some of the charges.
The charges against Ricks followed a Washington Post investigation in July about 10 boys who were molested by Ricks or suspect that they were being targeted by him, dating to the late 1970s. The investigation also outlined how Ricks was able to move among teaching jobs with barely a blemish on his record despite suspicions by authorities.
MacBride said several people suspected that Ricks's behavior was inappropriate, but there wasn't enough evidence for charges or Ricks moved without it affecting his record.
"There was smoke everywhere this guy went," MacBride said, "and most folks didn't call it in to the fire department."
The Post has since found at least five additional victims or boys who think they, too, were being targeted for abuse. They include a young boy Ricks babysat while he was a student at the University of North Carolina in 1981 and another Manassas boy who lived near Ricks at the time of his arrest in February 2010 and thought he might have been the next victim had Ricks not been taken into custody.
Federal prosecutors said Ricks has admitted to engaging in illegal sexual contact with minor boys dating back more than three decades. In a statement of facts filed with the plea, Ricks acknowledged molesting a boy he met at a Charlottesville summer camp in 1979, the 12-year-old boy he met at UNC, multiple victims in Japan, two foreign exchange students he hosted in Danville, Va., and another he hosted in Federalsburg, Md. Several of the victims told The Post that Ricks had given them large amounts of tequila before they were abused.
"After they passed out, he would photograph or film himself performing sexually explicit conduct with the victims," according to federal prosecutors. Ricks also pleaded guilty to one federal charge of possession of child pornography.
Law enforcement officials have said they pursued child pornography charges because they are relatively easy to prove and would not require victims to testify.
Now almost 51, Ricks probably will be in his 70s when he is freed. His earlier conviction for molesting a 16-year-old boy - before Thursday his only conviction for a sex offense - got him a one-year jail sentence in Prince William County and forced him to register as a sex offender, effectively ending his teaching career.
There are outstanding local charges against Ricks in North Carolina and in Caroline County, Md., where Ricks is accused of molesting a boy, but lawyers said in court that the North Carolina charges would be dropped because of the plea. His attorney, Brian Mizer, an assistant federal public defender, is negotiating to also drop the Maryland charges.
As part of Ricks's plea agreement, he must tell authorities about all the boys he has abused during his career, which began in Hampton Roads in 1982 and took him to jobs in North Carolina, Georgia, Japan, Danville, Baltimore, Federalsburg and Manassas. Should he fail to disclose a victim whom police later discover, he could face additional charges.
Ricks, in hours of face-to-face and telephone interviews with The Post, has acknowledged that he behaved "inappropriately" with at least six boys who were in his care. Ricks's extensive journal entries and letters, portions of which were obtained by The Post, indicate that there could be numerous other victims and show that Ricks has long understood that he was secretly crossing boundaries he should not have.
In a recent jailhouse interview, Ricks said that he "idealized and romanticized relationships" with the boys and that his taking of nude photographs while the boys were incapacitated was "the least intrusive thing to do."
He said he now finds his actions "reprehensible."
"The photographs were a way of not being harmful, I thought," Ricks said. "That was my rationalization. Wanting something artistic, intimate, tangible to show we had reached this level of intimacy and had cemented that in our relationship."
But MacBride said the child pornography is not simply "dirty pictures of kids," but "graphic depictions of adults abusing minors and memorializing the abuse forever."
Ricks, who was married for 17 years before his actions became public in recent months, maintains that he cared for each of the boys he victimized and was searching for validation and love.
As far as authorities know, Ricks first began abusing boys in the late 1970s, when he brought an 11-year-old boy he had met at summer camp to his home town of Roanoke Rapids, N.C. At UNC, Ricks was accused of abusing a young boy he was regularly babysitting from 1980 to 1981. He wrote letters to the boy and his father more than a decade later, apologizing.
"I did something terribly wrong, and even repeated it," Ricks wrote in April 1993. "I hope you've grown to understand that I was not a random child molester, and that I really did love you."
Ricks navigated the public and private educational systems over his long career, sometimes leaving school systems when people became suspicious of his actions, moving on without any marks on his record.
"All of these were explainable things," Ricks said of accusations he faced in several locations, including spending late nights with students in a dorm room in Atlanta, inappropriate contact with students in Hampton Roads, allegations of unethical behavior in Caroline County and stalking boys while a teacher in Manassas.
Staff writer Jennifer Buske and staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.