Former Loudoun teacher pleads guilty to scores of child porn charges
The former elementary school art teacher charged with 50 counts of possession of child pornography pleaded guilty in Loudoun Circuit Court Friday. He faces sentencing July 25.
Ralph Watts Conrad III, 43, of Hamilton, appeared before Judge Stephen Sincavage Friday and pleaded guilty to 50 counts of possession of sexually explicit visual materials. Each count carries a maximum sentence of one to five years in prison. As a result of his plea, Conrad’s bond was revoked and he was taken into the custody of the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office. In addition, a psychiatric evaluation was ordered to be completed before sentencing.
According to the proffer of facts presented by the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office in connection with the plea agreement in the case, in August 2013 the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office was contacted by an agent from Homeland Security Investigations Immigration and Customs Enforcement who said she had a suspect from Loudoun. The agent had been working an “image source” website with a URL from Russia, that used American flags to identify IP addresses from users in the United States. The federal government had launched a national investigation, Operation Protego, to target U.S. residents who used “imaged sources” as a means to “receive, distribute, advertise, possess, and/or access with the intent to view” child pornography.
Account logs showed a user who registered in 2011, later identified to be Conrad, had been accessing the site through May 15, 2013, had created albums of images, commented on other albums and posted content to a blog containing his user name.
In June, the investigation led to Conrad’s identification, and sealed federal warrants for his email addresses uncovered correspondence about and containing child pornography. In September a warrant was issued for Conrad’s Hamilton area home, and computer forensics agents from the Department of Homeland Security discovered pornographic images and videos on his home laptop. Conrad was arrested that day. Further investigation uncovered more than 500 videos and 2,700 images of child pornography, according to the commonwealth’s proffer of evidence.
Prior to his arrest, Conrad had been employed by Loudoun County Public Schools for 15 years. His last position was as an art teacher at Algonkian Elementary School. He also has worked as an itinerant teacher at six other schools during his 15-year career. For this school year, he was assigned to Creighton’s Corner Elementary School, but had only been there one day at the time of his arrest.
Also found during the September 2013 search of his home, according to the commonwealth's proffer of evidence was "a letter of discipline stating he had been suspended from his job as a teacher for having inappropriate sexual conversation with a middle school student."
It is unclear if that suspension is related to the six-month suspension Conrad faced two school years ago, which was brought up by Algonkian Elementary School parents during a meeting after Conrad's arrest. Responding to parents' inquiries at that meeting, Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick said Conrad was put on leave for an investigation, but that it was not related to the current charges and did not involve criminal activity. “We did not think there was any risk to the students,” he said at the time.
Loudoun County Public Schools spokesperson Wayde Byard said the school system could not comment on the matter since it is part of a personnel record.
Conrad will face final sentencing at 4 p.m. Friday, July 25.