Former English teacher Kevin Ricks, who molested at least nine boys in his care during a 30-year career in education in several states and overseas, will spend at least the next two decades behind bars after his sentencing Thursday in federal court.
Ricks’s sentence resulted from a carefully crafted plea agreement in U.S. District Court in Alexandria that includes six cases in which he admits that he staged naked photographs of boys he abused while they were passed out drunk. The abuse spanned Ricks’s career as a camp counselor, Boy Scout leader, babysitter, high school teacher, tutor and foreign exchange host.
U.S. District Judge James C. Cacheris sentenced Ricks to 25 years, a fixed number tied to the deal. Federal guidelines called for 30 years to life on charges of production and possession of child pornography.
“It was obviously a very serious offense to molest these children,” Cacheris told Ricks after approving the sentence, which includes a lifetime of supervised release after prison. “You were a manipulator as a teacher. You took advantage of your position.”
A Washington Post investigation published last year, before he was charged with federal crimes, revealed that Ricks, 51, had abused boys in Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina and Japan, locations where he had children in his care. Ricks, who was married, used his position of authority to endear himself as a caring mentor and friend before infiltrating his victims’ lives, obsessing over them and ultimately getting them drunk on tequila before abusing them, according to dozens of interviews and Ricks’s letters and journals.
Ricks was able to move between and among teaching jobs with barely a blemish on his record as school districts were more concerned with getting rid of him than punishing him, The Post found.
Court papers filed this week indicate that Ricks acknowledged in interviews with the FBI and local investigators at least nine victims, including a previously unknown boy from his time teaching at a private school in Georgia in the mid-1980s. Prosecutors say they believe there are at least a dozen others whom Ricks either victimized or targeted.
The first known victim of Ricks’s abuse — Christopher Payne, who was molested in 1979 while a guest at Ricks’s family home in North Carolina — spoke emotionally in court Thursday, saying he wanted to represent all the others abused over the years. He sat in the courtroom next to Abby Ricks, who divorced Ricks after the revelations of his secret life emerged.
“He knew what he was doing, and he needs to pay for that,” Payne said. “I’m hurt. I’m confused. I’m trying to find closure. . . . He stripped away my childhood, my dignity, who I was.”
By engineering a guilty plea, Ricks and prosecutors avoided what could have been several long and disturbing trials, and he skirted what could have been a life sentence. Although prosecutors in four jurisdictions agreed to drop their cases as part of the negotiations, it is likely that Ricks still will face charges on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, where he is accused of molesting a German foreign exchange student in his home in 2004.
Jonathan Newell, state’s attorney for Caroline County, said he intends to push forward with charges that include sexual assault and could carry a maximum of more than 100 years in prison. Those charges arise largely out of a night of heavy drinking during which, it’s alleged, Ricks videotaped himself sexually molesting a teenager he was hosting in his Federalsburg home.
“With all due respect, the pornography charges to which he pled guilty are far less serious than the acts with which we have him charged,” Newell said.
Ricks hopes to spend his federal prison time at the Butner Federal Correctional Complex in North Carolina, about 30 minutes northeast of Durham and about an hour and a half from his family home in Roanoke Rapids. There, he can enter a treatment program for sex offenders.
In interviews with The Post, Ricks has said he believes what he did was “reprehensible,” but he denied that his actions were part of a plan to molest boys. He said he fell in love with each of the boys, succumbed to temptation and then took secret photographs as what he believed was the “least-harmful thing” he could do to prove their intimacy. In court, Ricks said that he “crossed boundaries and I knew better” and that he is “not evil, but a sinner.”
“I was tormented by all of it,” Ricks said in a telephone interview Wednesday night. “My emotions took over. I couldn’t distinguish myself from the teenagers.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney John Eisinger wrote in court documents, however, that Ricks is a scheming predator who knew that what he was doing was wrong. For example, in a journal entry on July 29, 1999, Ricks wrote that a foreign exchange student he had abused “was taken advantage of, and yes, used, even, harshly speaking, MOLESTED.”
Although Ricks says his victims have forgiven him, Payne and others said that is not true.
“I think that it’s absolutely unforgivable that Kevin took advantage of his position as a teacher to sexually assault his students,” said one of his Japanese victims, who spoke to authorities after Ricks was arrested. “If I can testify, I would like to describe my rage and how I feel that I can never forgive him.”
Robert Burzee, who was a student at Brandon Hall School near Atlanta in 1985 when Ricks molested him, also said he couldn’t forgive Ricks. Ricks acknowledged to prosecutors and The Post that he engaged in sex acts with the then-16-year-old boy when he was a teacher and dorm master at the private school.
Burzee, 40, is incarcerated for theft, and he said he believes his life has been on a downward spiral since Ricks stripped him naked and performed sex acts on him nearly 26 years ago. Burzee said Ricks befriended him and noticed that he was vulnerable.
After Burzee reported the molestation to school officials, he said he was ostracized, told to keep quiet and removed from the school. He said he has had to live under the cloud of being labeled a liar all his life.
“I never overcame it. It started a life of drug use and culminated in my current situation,” Burzee said by telephone from the Rifle Correctional Center in western Colorado. “No one has ever believed me. I’m angry that he took advantage of me the way he did. This closes a big chapter in my life, and hopefully people will know now that they should have believed what I was saying all that time ago.”
Burzee’s experience with the school — declining to proceed with a formal investigation or charges and then letting Ricks leave quietly — was a pattern throughout Ricks’s career. Suspicions never carried with them enough evidence, or administrators simply wanted to move him on to protect their students.
Many people — including school officials, colleagues and friends — suspected something over the years, but no one was able to stop Ricks until 11 years later. In February 2010, a Manassas police detective learned that Ricks, a revered Osbourn High School teacher, had written sexual messages to a young boy on Facebook. Ricks was arrested and has been incarcerated since.
“Taking the pictures at all should have been unthinkable,” Ricks said in court Thursday. “I understand that. I violated the trust of these individuals, and because of my career, I violated the public trust as well.”