Eric Toth was listed among the vilest of predators on the FBI’s Most Wanted list. His image was splashed across Times Square and he spent five years on the run from child pornography charges, at times taking on fake identities and donning an eye patch to help conceal his identity.
But before he was sentenced to 25 years in prison in federal court Tuesday, the former teacher at D.C.’s prestigious Beauvoir school admitted in dramatic fashion that he largely is who he has been made out to be.
“I don’t pretend that anything I could say here today would ever make up for what I did,” he said. “Everything the prosecutors said was true. . . . I’m a good liar.”
Between 2005 and 2008, Toth made a series of pornographic images and videos that featured 17 children. He pleaded guilty in December to three counts of producing child pornography, misusing a Social Security number and identity theft.
Prosecutors said Toth, now 32, was able to gain access to children and remain on the lam for so long because he manipulated people to gain their trust — and then betrayed them to get what he wanted.
“The defendant by many accounts was talented, smart and a good teacher,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Cassidy Pinegar told the court. “There was this dark side, though, that pressed to see what he could get away with.”
Toth’s crimes began in 2005, when he took an inappropriate video of a boy while he was a camp counselor in Wisconsin. The same year, he became a third-grade teacher at Beauvoir and surreptitiously filmed a boy in his classroom. He stashed cameras disguised as air fresheners in the boy’s home and others in a restroom at Beauvoir, capturing images of 15 children using the bathroom.
Parents said Toth was an engaging — if sometimes quirky — teacher. He babysat and tutored students in his spare time, sometimes for free. He selected favorites in his classroom so blatantly that some students labeled classmates “Tothies.”
Toth told the court that he knew he had a problem, but that he was “self indulgent.” His attorney said in filings that Toth suffered from depression and had been abused when he was in high school.
“They trusted me. They took me into their confidences. They welcomed me into their homes,” Toth said. “But then I betrayed it all.”
In 2008, a Beauvoir employee discovered pornographic images on a camera assigned to Toth. School officials escorted Toth off campus and he fled, beginning a five-year life as a fugitive that would take him across the United States and to Latin America.
During that time, he faked a suicide. He spent time at a homeless shelter in Phoenix, telling people he had taken a vow of poverty. He also worked as a computer technician and a technical writer in Austin and was booked to speak at a technology conference but never appeared.
The charges of misusing a Social Security number and identity theft stem from this period. Toth took both from people he befriended and used some of the information to obtain a passport and travel to Nicaragua in October 2012, authorities said.
Toth was arrested in April 2013 after a tourist spotted him and alerted authorities. He had 1,100 images of child pornography on his computer and a box of eye patches that Nicaraguan police said he used to conceal a distinctive mole under his left eye.
None of Toth’s victims or their parents testified at the sentencing hearing, but Pinegar paraphrased in court the sentiment of a letter submitted by a parent of one of the victims, saying, “Mr. Toth turned a place that was supposed to be a safe haven into a place for the betrayal of trust.”