Feds: Counselor likely had sexual contact with kids
Detroit — Federal prosecutors said Thursday it was “extremely likely” that a former Jewish Community Center counselor had sexual contact with young campers.
The government made the claim in a 23-page brief arguing that ex-counselor Matthew Kuppe should not be freed on bond. It is unclear if any campers told prosecutors they were sexually assaulted at the camp.
The brief for the first time provided details about how Kuppe allegedly managed to take 16 sexually explicit photos of three young boys at the camp’s locker room and bathroom. The brief also explains how the counselor allegedly managed to return as a counselor this summer despite management being made aware in summer 2014 that Kuppe was “overly touchy” with boy campers.
“In 2014, when two counselors reported that (Kuppe) acted inappropriately around boys in the camp, the management did not find the complaints credible, and failed to act on them,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara Woodward wrote in the brief.
Late last month, a camp spokesman said several employees were fired for failing to act on the 2014 complaint and said senior management never saw the complaint.
One alleged victim’s parents wrote a letter to U.S. District Judge Avern Cohn explaining how their lives have been impacted since Kuppe allegedly told investigators he inappropriately touched their son.
“The lasting impression of the admission will haunt me and my wife until the day we die, and given our son is only five-years-old, it could be years before we truly understand the full impact of the unspeakable actions against him,” the parents wrote in a letter filed in federal court.
“This monster turned our sons into objects of prey for himself and for other pedophiles around the world,” the parents wrote.
Parents of a second alleged victim fear Kuppe could harm their son if freed on bond.
“If he is released on bond, this will be his last opportunity for quite some time to act on his fantasies,” they wrote in another letter. “Our greatest fear is that he will cut his tether and find a way to gain access to our child.”
Kuppe’s lawyer, Walter Piszczatowski, could not be reached for comment Thursday. He has suggested the photos were “child erotica” and not child porn. He has proposed having Kuppe released to his parents’ custody and monitored by electronic tether.
Prosecutors say Kuppe is a danger to the community and a flight risk. If convicted, he faces at least 15 years in prison for each child-pornography production count and five years for distributing and receiving child porn.
The brief Thursday provided new insight into an investigation that has alarmed parents at the popular camp and illustrated challenges facing investigators dealing with young children.
“It is extremely likely that defendant engaged in some form of sexual contact with campers at the JCC summer camp in 2014 and 2015,” Woodward wrote. “It is also extremely likely that the victims of defendant’s sexual abuse may not come forward or be identified.”
Kuppe, 21, of West Bloomfield, was charged last month in a six-count indictment. He is accused of producing child porn and posting the images on a Russian website. In at least one case, he identified one of the boys by name. The three victims are ages 5 and 6, prosecutors said.
The government alleges Kuppe started identifying potential victims last summer, gaining their trust and trying to break down their defenses.
“He repeatedly accompanied boy campers while they changed clothes and used the bathroom,” Woodward wrote. “He tickled, poked, and wrestled with his campers. This is classic grooming behavior and defendant was careful to keep his actions as concealed as possible.
“In 2015, (Kuppe) moved on from his attempts to groom older campers, and realized that younger children are even more vulnerable and less likely to recognize inappropriate sexual behavior,” Woodward added. “Although defendant was not assigned to work with five-year-olds, he injected himself into their area by volunteering to supervise them whenever possible, and attended two overnights at the camp in order to put himself around the younger campers.”
Kuppe allegedly used his cellphone to take nine sexually explicit photos of a 5-year-old boy on Aug. 5 inside the center’s locker room, prosecutors said Thursday. That night, he allegedly uploaded the photos to the Russian website, Woodward wrote. The next night, Kuppe volunteered to help during a summer camp sleepover, according to the brief.
After taking several children to the bathroom, Kuppe secretly took sexually explicit photos of a 6-year-old boy and a 5-year-old boy, prosecutors said.
Then, Kuppe went home. Once home, he shared the photos on the same Russian website, Woodward wrote.
“The danger posed by defendant is much more severe than the average child pornography defendant,” Woodward wrote. “Here, (Kuppe) gained access to children, began the grooming process, and by his own admission was sexually aroused.”
Prosecutors do not want Kuppe freed on bond. His home is near an elementary school.
“(Kuppe) need only look out his window to see unsuspecting children that match his sexual preference,” Woodward wrote.
One alleged victim’s parents suggested Kuppe could kill himself after being released on bond.
“Mr. Kuppe potentially and hopefully, has a long life behind bars in front of him,” the parents wrote in a letter to the judge. “We do not want even the remotest of chances that he will take the easy way out.”