Ex-SAD 17 volunteer gets 60 days on child porn

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PARIS – A former volunteer at the Waterford Memorial Elementary School will spend two months in jail after pleading guilty to a charge of possessing child pornography.

Richard Beebe, 69, of 67 Beyer Road in Waterford, was sentenced Friday in a plea agreement before Justice Joyce A. Wheeler. Beebe will serve 60 days of a one-year prison sentence, as well as a two-year probationary period. He will also be required to register as a sex offender for 10 years.

Beebe is forbidden to possess a computer or use the Internet, and will be subject to searches to ensure compliance on that condition. A computer owned by Beebe’s wife was not seized by police, but it may be examined during these searches.

In addition, Beebe must undergo psychological counseling and may not have unsupervised contact with children under the age of 16.

Beebe was charged with a single Class C felony, which carries a maximum prison sentence of five years.

According to an affidavit by Detective John Hainey of the Maine State Police, he was informed in February that Beebe was under investigation by the Portland office of the FBI. An investigator posing as a single mother of two young children had been trading instant messages with Beebe.

During these online conversations, Beebe stated that he got “very excited” from working around children, and touched his granddaughter’s buttocks when her mother was not looking. He denied having child pornography on his computer when asked during the conversations.

Beebe also sent a nonexplicit picture of a 9-year-old girl to the investigator, describing her as one of his favorite girls at the school where he volunteered. The girl was later identified as a student at the Waterford school.

According to information presented by Assistant District Attorney Joe O’Connor on Friday, the investigator asked how he could control himself in the school environment. Beebe replied that he had to “really work at it.”

Mark Eastman, superintendent of the SAD 17 school district of which Waterford is a part, said volunteers at the school were not always subject to criminal background checks. However, Beebe was given one because he sometimes worked as a substitute teacher. Before the investigation, Beebe had no record of criminal activity or traffic violations.

“You can do due diligence and still be betrayed,” said Eastman.

According to Hainey’s affidavit, Trooper Adam Fillebrown of the Maine State Police, who lives in Waterford, said he had received complaints from parents about Beebe “hugging and allowing children to sit on his lap.” Eastman said the concerns were also brought before school officials, and that Beebe was spoken to, but denied that it was a persistent problem.

Shortly after Hainey was informed of Beebe’s online conversations, he obtained the man’s permission to search his residence. Police seized several computers and electronic storage devices, including CDs and floppy disks, and a digital camera.

Beebe admitted to Hainey that “he might have as many as 100 pictures” of prepubescent children involved in sex acts, according to Hainey’s affidavit. O’Connor said on Friday that the Maine Computer Crimes Task Force identified 132 pictures from the computers as child pornography. Some children in the images were identified by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, though none of the children identified were local.

After news of the investigation broke, the school board and police informed Beebe that he would be arrested if he came onto school property, according to Eastman.

Beebe had previously taught courses at the Waterford Public Library on how to use the Internet. According to O’Connor, he was also an ordained minister at one time.

Before hearing Beebe’s plea, Wheeler silently read a letter from the mother of the girl in the photograph Beebe sent to the FBI investigator.

“I hope you, Richard Beebe, realize the emotional pain that you have caused my family, your family and our small community and our school district,” the letter states.

The mother goes on to say that Beebe had persistently called her for about a year before the investigation. She states that Beebe invited her daughter to go sledding at his house, asked if he could take her to her after-school activities, and requested that they “get together for some one-on-one reading time.”

She states that after these incidents, she instructed the girl’s teacher that under no circumstances were Beebe and her daughter to be out of the classroom alone.

O’Connor said that while the photograph of the girl was not explicit, sending it to the investigator was a serious issue, given the charge brought against him.

“I think the really egregious aspect was sending this photo off into the ether of the Internet,” he said.

Wheeler said that the sentence would act as a warning to Beebe, and said that his actions could have led to a worse situation.

“But for her mother, we might be here on a much more serious charge,” she said.

O’Connor said he and defense attorney Edward Dilworth III arrived at the agreement after O’Connor contacted officials in neighboring Androscoggin and Franklin Counties. He said they analyzed similar cases and circumstances to determine an appropriate sentence. “We simply haven’t had many of these,” he said.

He acknowledged in court that the number of child pornography charges has increased recently.

O’Connor said that while some might consider the sentence light, he believed it would be effective, considering Beebe’s lack of a criminal record.

“He should be traumatized by this,” he said in court, “and I hope he will.”

Eastman said Beebe had been a trusted worker at the school, and that he was was appalled with the incident.

“My sense is that he’s betrayed the trust of his community, his family, and our school,” he said. “And I’m not sure that 60 days is an appropriate sentence.”

Eastman said the school board is considering a new policy to do a background check on all volunteers. Before the incident, background checks were required only for substitute teachers. The policy will have its first reading at the board’s Monday night meeting.

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