TAMPA — A Pasco County assistant principal has been charged with possession, production and distribution of child pornography, amid allegations that he took sexually explicit photos of a 14-year-old boy and sent them to another man.
Kyle Ritsema, 35, an assistant principal at Cypress Creek Middle/High School in Wesley Chapel, was arrested Tuesday and appeared in U.S. District Court in Tampa on Wednesday. He is expected to return for a hearing Thursday before Magistrate Judge Amanda Sansone.
Ritsema admitted to two agents that he took and shared the photographs but said he thought the boy was 18, according to a criminal complaint.
The agents, from Homeland Security Investigations and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, met Ritsema at school Tuesday and showed him a photo of the boy taken inside the educator’s Ford Fusion. Ritsema said he took other photos in his bedroom of the boy.
"He wanted me to take them, the pics," Ritsema told investigators, according to the complaint.
Ritsema, who has been employed by the Pasco School District since August 2006, was placed on paid administrative leave, a district spokeswoman said. Before joining Cypress Creek this year, he was an assistant principal at Pine View Middle School in Land O’Lakes.
"We are stunned by these charges against Mr. Ritsema," spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said. "He was subject to a pre-employment level 2 background check through the FBI, and a follow-up after five years of employment; neither turned up any criminal activity.
"In addition, we’ve never had any complaints about Mr. Ritsema in more than 10 years of employment."
Superintendent Kurt Browning intends to recommend that the School Board suspend him without pay at its meeting Tuesday, Cobbe said.
School district crisis team members headed to both Cypress Creek and Pine View, for any students or staff who needed to talk or wanted counseling.
Johanna Navarro, president of Cypress Creek’s Parent-Teacher-Student Association, worked closely with Ritsema.
"I am sad for all that thought they knew him," she posted on Facebook after learning why he was arrested. "What I know for fact is that he has never been less than kind, professional, and caring during every interaction."
Ritsema came to the attention of law enforcement during an investigation of another man who was charged with distribution and possession of child porn in November.
Agents searched that man’s phone and found sexually explicit images of a boy sent by Ritsema on March 21, 2015, the complaint states. In a text exchange, quoted in the complaint, Ritsema claimed the boy was a 15-year-old student at a local high school and that the two had sex.
The teen in the photos, now 17, was interviewed by law enforcement Wednesday morning, and a summary of his comments is included in the court record.
He said he met Ritsema on the internet and accompanied him to his home in New Port Richey. He didn’t remember much from that day but said things likely progressed in a sexual manner, investigators reported.
The teen told agents that the photos were of him, but he didn’t realize Ritsema had taken photos, the criminal complaint said.
"I didn’t know there were pictures of me," the unnamed teen said. "I did not ask him to take the pictures."
Contact Jonathan Capriel at 813-225-3141 or [email protected] Follow @jonathancapriel.