Complaint: Iowa principal hid camera in restroom

AP News
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Posted: Jun 03, 2011 6:56 PM
Complaint: Iowa principal hid camera in restroom

The principal of an Iowa elementary school admitted that he downloaded child pornography over the course of several months and hid a video camera in the school to get images of young boys using the bathroom, according to court documents filed Friday.

Robert Burke, 43, the principal at Sageville Elementary School just north of Dubuque, was charged with one count of receiving child pornography. A criminal complaint says an FBI agent downloaded eight images child of pornography in April from a computer with an IP address that was traced to Burke's residence in Dubuque.

At least three of the images involved boys who appeared to be between the ages of 8 and 10 performing oral sex, according to a court affidavit filed by Robert Larsen, a special agent for the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation.

Law enforcement officials served a search warrant at Burke's home on Friday morning, seizing his computer and some printed images depicting minors engaged in sexual conduct, according to the affidavit. They later received permission to search the school, according to the school board president.

Burke, who was arrested at home and taken into custody, admitted during an interview with investigators to placing a camera in the school's bathroom, according to the affidavit.

"He stated the camera had produced video images of students who were using the bathroom," Larsen wrote, adding Burke denied ever having touched children in a sexual manner.

U.S. Attorney Stephanie Rose urged parents and anyone with information relevant to the investigation to call her office.

Burke pleaded not guilty during an initial court appearance late Friday afternoon in U.S. District Court in Cedar Rapids. He was ordered jailed pending a detention hearing on Tuesday, said Sean Berry, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office.

Dubuque Superintendent of Schools Larie Godinez said in a statement that Burke had been suspended with pay "and further action will be considered based on the advice of our attorneys." She said the district was cooperating with the ongoing federal investigation.

The charge, which carries a mandatory minimum of 5 years behind bars, shocked those who know Burke as a popular and well-respected principal who acts and sings in regional theater projects.

"Bob is a popular principal, a super nice guy," said School Board President Mike Brannon. "He's done community theater and is an accomplished singer as well. Just a talented, funny actor and singer. If it's just pure singing, he's got a wonderful voice."

Brannon said he learned about the case Friday before authorities searched the school, but that he had received few details of the allegations and was reserving judgment. Burke had been principal since 2004 after previously serving in that role at a Catholic school in Dubuque.

Brannon said Sageville students come from a mix of rural and suburban neighborhoods and the school has low student turnover because of their generally stable family lives. He said the superintendent and her aides were staying late Friday to field comments and concerns from parents.

"I am sure that our Sageville community and greater Dubuque School community have many questions," Godinez said in her statement. "At this point in time, however, I am not at liberty to discuss any aspects of this federal investigation."

Burke admitted that he had been downloading child pornography using the Internet and a file-sharing program since January, the complaint said. Law enforcement officials said they have not had time to fully examine the material seized Friday.

The public defender who represented Burke at Friday's hearing, Jill Lilledahl, did not immediately return a phone message.

Sageville Elementary has an enrollment this year of 279 students between kindergarten and fifth grade, according to its website. Someone who answered the phone at the school declined comment.