A former Washington elementary school teacher who became one of the FBI’s most-wanted criminals after taking hidden video of his students using the bathroom and then eluded law enforcement officials by assuming fake identities and escaping to Nicaragua has been sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Eric Justin Toth spent five years on the run, living in Arizona and Texas before escaping from the country. In 2012, the FBI put him on its “Ten Most Wanted” list, where he filled the vacancy created by Osama bin Laden’s death.
Before sentencing him Tuesday, a judge noted his skill at evading law enforcement and the large number of victims in the case, 17 in all.
Toth had asked for 22 years in prison — expressing remorse and promising to “do penance” for his deeds. A prosecutor asked for 30.
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“I know I’ve hurt people, a lot of people,” Toth told Judge Rudolph Contreras at a federal court hearing.
Toth, 32, became choked up while speaking, at points tearing up but at others trying to joke. Toth, who will spend a lifetime on supervised release after he leaves prison, mentioned Google Glass and said he told his lawyer he could wear glasses that allow officials to see what he’s seeing and ensure he is staying away from children.
He promised to spend his time in prison “trying to do penance in whatever humble ways I can.” Toth previously wrote in a letter to the judge that one of the things he wants to do is train guide dogs as part of a prison program.
The prosecutor overseeing the case, Cassidy Pinegar, acknowledged that Toth never distributed the images he took of children under his care. But she told the judge that Toth is “deeply disturbed and needs treatment.”
Toth fled Washington in 2008 after images of child pornography were found on a camera he had used while a teacher at Beauvoir, a private elementary school. A media card containing more images was found at the school soon after, but Toth fled before police could arrest him.
His car was later found parked at a Minnesota airport with an apparent suicide note. Authorities caught him in Nicaragua in April 2013.
Toth pleaded guilty in December to three counts of producing child pornography. In addition to acknowledging that he placed a camera in a bathroom at the Beauvoir school, where he captured video of 15 children, he acknowledged that as a camp counselor in Wisconsin in 2005 he took photos and video of a camper. He also took photos and video of a child in Maryland.
Toth also pleaded guilty to identity theft and misuse of a Social Security number for using others’ identities while on the run.