Federal agents are looking for more victims of the Florida school principal described by a judge as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.” Bail was denied Feb. 14 for Kyle Dale Ritsema, 35, of Land O’ Lakes, assistant principal of Cypress Creek Middle School who is facing four counts on federal charges of production, distribution, and possession of child pornography.
Asking for the public’s help, Homeland Security investigators now believe there are more Ritsema victims. According to court records, Ritsema established relationships with young male juveniles on various social media applications including Grindr, Kik Messenger and SCRUFF, and then met them off-line.
“We believe there are more children that were victimized by this predator, and we ask for the public and parents to help us identify them and make sure they receive the support they need,” said HSI Tampa Special Agent in Charge James C. Spero “This case serves as a warning to our communities to be vigilant about our children’s online activities.”
The original 23-page criminal complaint, affidavit, and charging documents and the 6-page indictment released by the US District Court Middle District of Florida to Heavy, Ritsema, if convicted on all counts, is facing a maximum of 30 years in federal prison for production of child pornography, 20 years for two counts each of distribution of child pornography, and 10 years for possession of child porn. The criminal complaint is based on an investigation by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Special Agent Terri Botterbush.
The case against Ritsema came as a result of a November 2017 indictment against another defendant charged with possessing and distributing child pornography. During the course of that investigation, Botterbush became aware that Ritsema was communicating with that unnamed defendant. Many of the details spelled out in the criminal complaint are of an extremely graphic and explicit sexual nature involving, federal agents say, Ritsema and a 14-year-old boy and the pornographic photographs Ritsema sent via text to the unnamed defendant.
Ritsema and the unnamed defendant exchanged correspondence between 2014 and 2016 and based on the federal court documents, their relationship evolved from conversations and hook-ups into a more graphic sharing of details about their shared sexual interest in children. In March of 2015, the two met and later Ritsema texted images to the unnamed defendant of he and an under-aged boy. Ritsema told the man he thought the boy was about 15 adding he was from a local high school. The unnamed defendant commented that the images of the boy and Ritsema were “hot” and “mmm.” He texted that the the boy he plays with can’t come to his house because he’s not allowed to stay out late so they “play in the park.” In the texts, Ritsema described his encounter with the boy in very graphic and explicit language. “I couldn’t pass up that boy. And he usually only meets me late at night so it was perfect.” Ritsema sent a total of five images via text to the unnamed defendant four of which Botterbush said were clearly pronographic and showed explicit content including a boy’s genitals and sex positions. After receiving the images, the unnamed defendant says, “You played this morning.” To which Ritsema replies, “Yes. But I still want to play some more.”
According to the court documents Ritsema was involved with the boy from November 2014 until June of 2015. Investigators subpoenaed Ritsema’s phone records and using Facebook were able to identify the child in question. This week, on Tuesday Feb. 13, federal agents went to Cypress Creek High Middle School to interview Ritsema who admits to asking the unnamed defendant to bring over child pornography saying, “He was into it …he had stuff and I’d never seen it or ever seen anything so I asked to see it.” The child pornography, the criminal complaint reads, included a pornographic video of a 5-year-old boy. This occurred at a New Port Richey townhouse Ritsema owns and is also the same location where he, documents state, he had sex with a 14 year old boy. Ritsema admitted to “hooking up” with the boy but said he didn’t know his name and said the boy claimed to be “18 but a late bloomer” but he had no license, was from a broken home and at one point says he only knew him for a week but when confronted with the photographs, Ritsema says the child “…wanted me to take them.” He said they were “fooling around” and the sex was primarily oral. He told agents the boy lived with his grandmother, and may have told him where he went to high school but Ritsema now doesn’t recall. In addition, Ritsema was confronted with information that a graphic image was sent by him of a child to whom he was related by marriage. H said that that was joking and that he would never have had sex with the 15-year-old boy referred to as his “nephew-in-law.”
After the interview with Ritsema, federal agents then went to the boy’s house (he is now 17) and the boy was hesitant but said maybe there was sex but that he was unaware pictures had been taken and he did not ask for nor want pictures to be taken.
What may be most startling about the case is that the unnamed defendant may be William Napolitano who also worked for the Pasco County School District as a bus driver and then later as head of transportation. Napolitano was charged with possession of child pornography last November so the time frame fits as do details in the criminal complaint including where the two men met and where each lived.
According to court documents, Ritsema was employed by a YMCA from 2009 to 2013, and was a math teacher and math coach for middle school-aged children before becoming a Pasco County Public Schools middle school assistant principal.
On Wednesday, the Tampa Bay Times is reporting that Kyle Ritsema, an assistant principal of a Florida middle school who had been under investigation by Homeland Security, was charged in federal court Wednesday with production, possession and distribution of child pornography. Ritsema was arrested Tuesday and held without bail in Hillsborough County.
Ritsema, 35, an assistant principal at Cypress Creek Middle High School in Pasco County was taken into custody by US Marshals, a Homeland Security spokesperson confirmed.
The Pasco County School District issued the following statement:
“We are stunned by these charges against Mr. Ritsema. 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. The superintendent intends to recommend that the school board suspend him without pay at their next regular meeting, which is Tuesday at 6 p.m.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Ritsema Was Scheduled to Appear Before a Federal Magistrate in the Middle District of Florida in Orlando on Wednesday
Kyle Dale Ritsema was under investigation by the Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) unit, which is under the umbrella of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
The HSI agents investigate several crimes, including financial crimes, commercial fraud and intellectual property theft, cybercrimes, human rights violations, human smuggling and trafficking, drug and weapons trafficking, transnational gang activity, export violations and international art and antiquity theft.
A spokesperson declined to identify the charges as the indictment is sealed until made public during the hearing. The investigation is ongoing, the HSI spokesperson said.
Online jail records from the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office show that Ritsema, of Land O’ Lakes, was arrested on February 13 and booked into the Orient Road jail at 3 p.m.
He was released from the jail into the custody of Homeland Security on February 14 at 12:20 p.m. to be taken to federal court. The online records show he was detained on probable cause for a “federal rules violation” and lists the agency as ICE.
2. The Florida School District Where He Worked Since 2006 Fired Ritsema
According to the Tampa Bay Times, Ritsema was initially placed on paid administrative leave when news of his arrest was made. No details of the charges were made by district officials at the tiem and Ritsema has faced no professional or personnel complaints, grievances or accusations. The district has counselors at schools to counsel students and staff.
Ritsema had worked in the school district since 2006.
An audio robo call was placed to parents to alert them as to the situation with Ritsema and to assure people that law enforcement has said its charges against Ritsema are not related to the school, students or district.
“Good evening Coyotes. Earlier today, one of our assistant principals, Mr. Ritsema, was taken into custody on federal charges. He has been placed on paid administrative leave as law enforcement’s investigation continues,” the call said. “The district has been notified that law enforcement’s concerns are not related to our students, school or the school district. At this time, I have no additional information to share. And as pertinent developments occur, I will share them with you. Thank you.”
3. Ritsema, Originally From Zeeland, Michigan, Was Also An Assistant Principal At Another Florida Middle School
According to his Facebook page, Ritsema worked as assistant principal at Pine View Middle School before joining the Cypress Creek Middle High School, part of the Pasco County (Florida) school district.
When Ritsema was named new assistant principal at Pine View Middle in 2015, he described the work in a local news article as “…a challenge, and it’s an exciting opportunity that is not available anywhere else in the county right now.”
Ritsema is currently still listed on the Cypress Creek Middle High School homepage as assistant principal.
Ritsema is originally from Michigan and graduated from Alma College in his home state in 2005 with a degree in elementary education. Before becoming a principal, Ritsema worked as a math teacher in Pasco County.
4. Ritsema’s Twitter Page Has Been Mostly Quiet Since His Last Post in March Of 2017, Where He Frequently Shared Upbeat School Events
The Cypress Creek Middle High School, home Of The Coyotes, serves students in grades 6 through 11. It had recently undergone new construction and Ritsema chronicled that progress on his Twitter account.
According to a community newsletter, Ritsema is the assistant principal for 7th and 8th grade at Cypress Creek.
Along with his time at Cypress Creek and Pine View Middle School, Ritsema has worked as a teacher at Paul R. Smith Middle School and Seven Springs Middle School and as an administrator at River Ridge Middle School.
Johanna Navarro, president of Cypress Creek’s Parent-Teacher-Student Association, told the Tampa Bay Times she is “saddened by whatever is going on,” but said she hadn’t been told any details. She said she has worked closely with him because he was the administration’s PTSA liasion and called him a “champion” for the students.
“He’s actually a really phenomenal person,” Navarro told the newspaper before details of the charges were announced. “I hope that he’s able to return not only to our community but also to our school because he’s a very respected person here on campus.”
5. Ritsema Recently Visited Peru & Posted Images On His Facebook Page
Kyle Ritsema visited Peru last summer and posted extensively on social media images of the trip. Otherwise, save for posts with friends, a llama and other trips, his Facebook account, though private, reveals little.
Ritsema has traveled often, according to his Facebook page, which shows other photos taken in Europe.
While at Alma College, Ritsema was a member of the choir and he has worked on school plays during his time in the Pasco County school system.