DOVER, Delaware — An administrator at a Delaware prep school whose graduates include U.S. Senator Chris Coons and TV personality Dr. Oz has been charged with trafficking child pornography.
William R. Ushler, 53, was arrested Tuesday, the same day authorities executed search warrants at his Wilmington home and Tower Hill School.
Ushler, admissions director at Tower Hill High School, is charged with five counts of trafficking child pornography, according to the Delaware Department of Justice. He is currently in custody, with cash bond set at $250,000. It was not immediately clear if he had an attorney.
Tower Hill officials said in an email to the school community on Wednesday that Ushler had been fired and barred from campus.
“We have been advised that law enforcement authorities are aware of the source of the images in question, and these images do not depict students or children in Tower Hill who were in contact with Mr. Ushler,” the statement said. ‘E-mail.
According to a search warrant affidavit, the Delaware Child Predator Task Force received a cyber alert report from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children on April 14. The report was initiated by Yahoo! Inc. and indicated that one of its email users had forwarded files possibly containing child pornography.
Emails identified in the report included two sent on March 21 showing a nude woman who appeared to be 14 or 15 years old. Another email, sent on August 10, 2019, showed an inappropriate image of a young teenage girl. According to investigators, three other images of naked girls were found stored on Ushler’s iPhone.
According to the affidavit, Ushler told investigators after reading his Miranda Rights that Yahoo! had suspended his email account about a month ago and had engaged in online chats with people who would send him pictures of naked women. Ushler also admitted to sending similar images, including those depicting minors.
The search warrant affidavit lists the IP addresses used by Ushler to access his Yahoo! e-mail included one registered at Tower Hill. School officials said they have begun an audit of their technology systems to determine if any safeguards have been compromised. They also acknowledged that Ushler’s arrest “may have repercussions and echoes” of a similar scandal involving former manager Christopher Wheeler.
Wheeler was convicted in 2015 of 25 counts of trafficking child pornography and sentenced to 50 years in prison.
The Delaware Supreme Court overturned the convictions the following year, ruling that search warrants obtained by police investigating Wheeler were unconstitutionally broad. Wheeler’s attorney had argued that authorities were wrongly using the possibility of witness tampering as an excuse to obtain warrants to search his computers, cellphones and other digital devices.
Wheeler was arrested after police, prompted by allegations of sexual abuse for which he was never charged, raided his home and office.
Authorities were allegedly looking for evidence of Wheeler’s communications with brothers in Pennsylvania who, following the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State University, contacted Wheeler about their alleged assault decades ago. In response to a letter from one of the brothers, Wheeler apologized for the pain he had caused, saying, “I did these things.”
Wheeler’s attorney argued that nothing in his correspondence or meetings with the brothers suggested, and no allegation had ever been made, that he had attempted to intimidate them or prevent them from reporting the alleged abuse to the authorities.
Wheeler’s attorney and the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed its own brief in the case, also noted that the computer containing child pornography images for which Wheeler was convicted was last turned on 10 months before the Pennsylvania brothers began contacting him in July 2013. The defense attorney also argued that prosecutors had never proven that Wheeler had ever downloaded or viewed child pornography images, which, according to him, were automatically cached on Wheeler’s computer from newsgroups he had subscribed to.