A former Madison East High School teacher pleaded guilty Monday in federal court to attempting to produce child pornography by concealing hidden cameras in locations where students on overnight trips would undress.
David M. Kruchten, 39, of Cottage Grove – who has been accused of attempting to surreptitiously take video recordings of students on overnight trips with East High School’s DECA business club – has told U.S. District Judge James Peterson and a courtroom full of former and current East students and parents that he positioned the cameras in the bathrooms of the students’ hotel rooms “just out of curiosity to see what was going on, what they were doing”.
He said he wanted to see the students undress and compulsively set up cameras.
“I just got addicted to spying on them,” Kruchten said, “seeing what they were doing in private moments.”
But Kruchten’s refusal to take the videos for sexual gratification nearly derailed the plea deal. Peterson said he was unsure whether Kruchten’s admission and the summary of evidence provided to the court by Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Altman satisfied an indictment requiring it to be shown that Kruchten had carried out the scheme for “lascivious” purposes.
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“Mere nudity is not enough,” Peterson said.
Kruchten’s attorney, federal defender Joseph Bugni, said he believed Kruchten would be convicted if the case went to a jury because of the way the cameras were set – facing the toilets and showers and the bathroom vanity users – to capture genital and pubic areas. of unsuspecting students. And Kruchten agreed that he directed the cameras that way.
The scheme came to light in Minneapolis in December 2019 when the cameras were uncovered and Kruchten was eventually arrested by police there.
Altman said a student pressed a bathroom air freshener and it opened, revealing a camera. The student reported it to Kruchten, who brought the device and others to the hotel reception to report them, after removing their data cards. Other students also looked in their rooms and found cameras in other air fresheners and in smoke detectors and other innocent-looking devices. Kruchten was seen on surveillance video throwing the devices into a trash can outside the hotel.
The federal charges in Wisconsin stemmed from an investigation subsequently launched into other DECA overnight trips chaperoned by Kruchten, including trips to Wisconsin Dells and Lake Geneva. Both of these trips took place before the Minneapolis trip. Students on those trips gave investigators photos they had taken in their hotel rooms that showed air fresheners, tissue boxes and similar clocks that all appeared to contain surveillance cameras, said Altmann.
Investigators also found that for the Wisconsin Dells trip, Kruchten used his own credit card to book a hotel suite and picked which students would be upgraded to the suite, Altman said. The photos of the students showed the recording devices in the bathroom of this suite.
Credit card statements also showed that Kruchten purchased the devices from an Indiana company as early as 2014, with multiple purchases made in 2017 and 2018, Altman said.
In Minnesota, Kruchten still faces three counts of interfering with a minor’s privacy. No court date is scheduled in this case at this time.
Kruchten resigned from his position in February 2020. He is currently being held in Sauk County Jail.
Peterson set the sentence for October 22. The hearing is expected to last all day and many victims are expected to speak. Under the latest plea agreement, all students who have been on Kruchten chaperone trips since 2016 are considered victims under federal law and are entitled to restitution and a hearing before Kruchten does. be condemned. Any act against any of these students will be considered relevant conduct that may be considered when a pre-sentence report writer determines the range of sentences Kruchten faces under the Federal Sentence Determination Advisory Guidelines. sadness.
Kruchten had been charged in January 2020 with seven counts of attempted production of child pornography. Eight more charges were added in August, including one charge of transporting seven minors to Minnesota with intent to create child pornography with hidden cameras.
Kruchten and Bugni signed a settlement with prosecutors in June in which Kruchten agreed to plead guilty to attempting to produce child pornography.
But an updated plea agreement was filed last month because the June agreement had misstated the penalties Kruchten faced. He now says that Kruchten agreed to be sentenced to between six and 20 years in prison, followed by 20 years of probation. The original agreement simply stated that the sentence was “at least six years in prison”. Moreover, the single charge set out in the June agreement did not provide for a 20-year supervised release period, which both parties had agreed to seek.
The agreement states that if Peterson accepts the plea deal, he must convict Kruchten as stated in the agreement. If Peterson rejects the deal or decides to give Kruchten a different sentence, Kruchten can withdraw his guilty plea. Kruchten also cannot appeal his conviction unless Peterson sentences him to more than 20 years in prison, under the terms of the agreement.
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