A 54-year-old former substitute teacher, Boy Scout troop leader and Warden City Council member pleaded guilty Thursday to receiving child pornography and was immediately taken into federal custody.
Michael S. Leavitt, who also served as a volunteer firefighter in the small town of Warden, about 16 miles southeast of Moses Lake, initially was charged in 2018. Leavitt worked as a substitute teacher at Warden Elementary School about 12 times, Warden Police Chief Rick Martin said. In October 2017, a 9-year-old student at the school reported to authorities that she caught Leavitt placing his iPhone underneath her skirt and recording images.
Based on that information, local and federal investigators obtained search warrants and found images that supported the girl’s claim. They also found hundreds of images of other children, including some taken at school events in Warden, where Leavitt served as a leader in the local ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, according to court records.
“Within his digital devices, (Leavitt) knowingly received and possessed more than 600 images that meet the federal definition of child pornography,” Assistant U.S. Attorney David Herzog wrote in court records. Leavitt “also possessed numerous images of students at Warden Elementary and other students. In an interview with law enforcement, (Leavitt) acknowledged that he had taken pictures of students without their knowledge.”
Leavitt appeared Thursday before U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Rice. At the hearing, Leavitt pleaded guilty to a single count of receipt of child pornography.
“I received child pornography by using the internet,” Leavitt said during the hearing. “I downloaded files.”
Rice accepted Leavitt’s guilty plea and scheduled sentencing for 9 a.m. June 12. Leavitt faces up to 10 years in federal prison followed by up to 20 years of supervised release.
“The United States takes the position that Mr. Leavitt poses a risk to the community,” Herzog said in court. “The United States does move for his detention pending sentencing.”
Federal public defender Matthew Campbell argued that Leavitt had followed all the conditions of his pretrial release.
“This is not a case that just arose,” Campbell said. “There is no evidence that Mr. Leavitt has committed any violation of his release conditions or posed a threat to anyone in the community.”
But Rice said federal law compelled him to place Leavitt in custody pending sentencing.
“This is considered a crime of violence,” Rice said. “You are not to leave the building.”
As part of the agreement negotiated by Campbell, Herzog agreed to drop a charge of possession of child pornography and attempted production of child pornography.
“The United States also agrees not to bring other child pornography or obscenity charges against (Leavitt) based on information in its possession at the time of this” plea agreement, Herzog wrote. Leavitt “understands that the United States is free to criminally prosecute (Leavitt) for any other past unlawful conduct or any unlawful conduct that occurs after the date of this” agreement.
As part of the case, Leavitt was given a break in the sentencing guidelines because he only received the child pornography and “did not intend to traffic or distribute such material,” the agreement states.
However, Leavitt also faces a higher offense level because many of the images involved children under the age of 12, because of the volume of images he obtained, because he used a computer to receive them and due to the fact that some of the images portrayed “sadistic or masochistic or other depictions of violence.”
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