Priest, 70, gets 12 years for child porn, sex assault

DETROIT — A Catholic priest who worked at a Detroit high school was sentenced to 12 years in prison Tuesday after he pleaded guilty to transporting child porn to Chicago and admitted to sexually assaulting a former student.

Richard James Kurtz, 70, was a chemistry teacher years ago at the University of Detroit Jesuit High School in Detroit.

Kurtz, who was brought in the courtroom Tuesday shackled and handcuffed, read a statement before Judge Mark Goldsmith, saying he was “deeply sorry” for his actions.

“Words can’t express how much remorse I feel,” Kurtz said. “… Some of my victims have names that are known to me. I am guilty of capturing images of them for my perverse pleasure. … The damage I’ve done must be borne by them for time to come. I accept full responsibility for betraying them.”

Before handing down a 144-month prison sentence, Goldsmith said Kurtz’s crime victimized children, who are an especially vulnerable population.

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“The facts of this case are very sobering,” Goldsmith said. “The number of images is significant, whether it’s the 2,300 or a higher number. That number is chilling enough. Some of these victims were not nameless unknowns, but persons, young people who interacted with the defendant. The defendant violated, in terrible ways, the safety and sense of security that every child has the right to enjoy.”

Kurtz gazed into his lap for most of his sentencing hearing and appeared gaunt in his Wayne County Jail jumpsuit. Kurtz’s attorney, Christopher Andreoff, said his client has lost nearly 15 pounds and was diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety.

“I’m very concerned about his health, Andreoff said, before asking the judge to allow Kurtz to be placed in a facility where he can receive proper care. “…I’m asking the court for mercy and redemption and to allow him to see the light of day.”

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Mulcahy argued that Kurtz has received more than his fair amount of breaks from the government and other authorities.

“To say that Kurtz was a wolf in sheep’s clothing is to suggest that Kurtz attempted to blend in with the flock to commit his offenses,” federal prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memorandum. “But Kurtz did more. Kurtz is more accurately described as a wolf in shepherd’s clothing, devouring some of his sheep for his own sexual pleasure. As such, Kurtz deserves to spend a significant part of the rest of his life in prison.”

The government recommended a 14-year sentence in custody, followed by 10 years of supervised release. In exchange for Kurtz’s guilty plea, and in recognition of his age and other mitigating factors, the government agreed to dismiss the production of child pornography charge.

Kurtz was dismissed from the school in 2001 when a 16-year-old boy accused him of sexual assault on a trip to Colorado. The family didn’t pursue charges at the time, but an investigation was opened in 2011 and Kurtz was convicted and placed on probation. Following this incident, several people came forward, according to the sentencing memorandum, and disclosed other instances of sexual misconduct by Kurtz.

Investigators said Kurtz also secretly recorded video of University of Detroit Jesuit hockey players while they changed in a locker room in the late 1990s.

Kurtz taught chemistry on and off for 25 years at the high school in northwest Detroit, starting in 1970.

“As the boys played hockey … and disrobed, they had no idea that there was someone creeping in their room,” Mulcahy said. “He abused that surreptitiously.”

Kurtz’s child porn collection was discovered in 2011 by priests who were packing his belongings at former residences in Clarkston, Mich., and Chicago.

According to federal court documents, the priests observed material containing images of underage boys, both clothed and nude. The images were turned over to the FBI, who discovered more than 2,300 images of child pornography on various computer media, floppy disks, printed pictures and photographic paper.

Beyond those images, Kurtz also had a series of photographs of clothed boys taken at what investigators believed was the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn. Kurtz was living a Missouri retreat for wayward priests last year when he was arrested in the child porn case.

Mulcahy said all of Kurtz’s crimes showed a “sea of violation of public trust.”

“Mr. Kurtz used the word ‘betrayal’ and that’s correct,” Mulcahy said. “Imagine a 13-year-old boy trying to unpack that word to describe a man of the cloth. Father Kurtz should have been as he is now: in handcuffs. This man was called to be a shepherd of his flock. Instead he violated that trust.”

[Katrease Stafford writes for the Detroit Free Press.]


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