Former principal gets 30 years for videotaping boys in Iowa school bathroom

Robert Burke
Robert Burke

(CBS/AP) CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - A former elementary school principal has been sentenced to 30 years in prison for secretly videotaping male students using the bathroom and allegedly preparing to share the tapes over the internet.

Robert Burke, 43, pleaded guilty Monday to producing child pornography, and U.S. District Judge Linda Reade recounted how Burke hid a video camera near a bathroom sink or on his belt to capture images of the genitals of at least 59 students between the ages of five and 11 at Sageville Elementary School in Dubuque. 

Burke was arrested in June after an FBI agent linked his computer to images of child pornography being shared online. Officers raided his home and found a collection of pornography on his hard drive. According to Judge Reade's statement at the hearing, Burke's collection included 32,000 images and 12,000 videos, mostly of young boys performing sex acts.

Burke reportedly told investigators about the cameras he had hidden at the school after they found the images on his computer. On Monday, Iowa Division of Criminal investigation special agent Ward Crawley testified that Burke categorized the images from the school by the child's first name and last initial, and that he told another person he had images of "some boys peeing at urinals" but they were not yet in a format he could share.

"Let me know if you're interested and I'll get those files ready," Burke said, according to Crawley.

"This is one of the most aggravating circumstances and crimes that I've ever seen," said Judge Reade at the sentencing. "This, I must say, is the most depraved I have had for some time."

Several of the parents of children who were taped spoke at the sentencing about how Burke's actions had affected their family's lives.

A father of a 10-year-old boy said, "My boy is never going to forget this for as long as he lives."

"This is a person who woke up every day and made a conscious decision to exploit boys over and over and over," said one mother of two victims. "His life as a caring and devoted principal has been a fraud."

Burke read from a handwritten statement: "My selfish actions violated the privacy of the students, betrayed the trust of the parents, brought much negative attention to an excellent school," he said. "I allowed a very personal problem to hurt many people, and for that, I am very sorry."

"This has been a vivid wake-up call. I've learned my lesson."