Abuse claim resurfaces in ex-Erie teacher’s porn case

In February 2012, David A. Rinke II, a former science teacher at the Erie School District’s Northwest Pennsylvania Collegiate Academy, was sentenced to nearly 20 years in federal prison for collecting and trading more than 50,000 images of child pornography, including videos of toddlers getting raped.

Rinke, who pleaded guilty, now wants to get out of prison early. He is citing the COVID-19 pandemic’s potential effect on what he says are his numerous health problems.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Erie wants Rinke to stay incarcerated. The government is contending that he remains a danger to the community and that he is not at risk for getting sick while he serves his sentence at the low-security facility at the Federal Correctional Complex at Allenwood, south of Williamsport.

To bolster its case, the U.S. Attorney’s Office disclosed new information against the 48-year-old Rinke in a document filed recently in U.S. District Court in Erie.

The office went into more detail about how Rinke was also accused of child sexual abuse.

One of the reasons Rinke remains a danger to the community if released early, Assistant U.S. Attorney Christian Trabold wrote in the filing, is because that, after Rinke was arrested in the child pornography investigation in 2011, a man told the FBI that Rinke repeatedly molested him as a minor, starting when the man was 11 and lasting until he graduated from high school.

Some of the abuse, according to the court filing, occurred on the grounds of what was then St. Andrew School, at West Sixth and Raspberry streets in Erie, where Rinke taught from 1996 to 1999. That was right before Rinke started at the Erie School District, where he was teaching 10th-grade science at Collegiate when he was arrested in 2011. St. Andrew School closed in 2006.

Rinke sexually abused the minor “at various locations” within St. Andrew School “including the gym and within Rinke’s classroom,” Trabold wrote. The minor was not one of Rinke’s students at the time, based on the filing and other information presented in court, and the abuse is alleged to have occurred when St. Andrew School was not in session.

The allegation adds another layer to what is one of the most significant child pornography cases to be prosecuted in federal court in Erie, based on Rinke’s position as a teacher and the length of the sentence.

The allegation, and the details surrounding it as listed in the court filing, also provide insight into how the U.S. Attorney’s Office developed the case against Rinke, who was teaching at Collegiate when he was arrested.

Rinke was never charged with child molestation, as the statute of limitations for a prosecution appeared to have expired, according to other information presented in Rinke’s case. Trabold in the new court filing said the man who came forward to the FBI after Rinke’s arrest “requested that his disclosure not be made public unless absolutely necessary.”

The U.S. Attorney’s Office raised the man’s allegation at Rinke’s detention hearing, in March 2011, but with other details, and the claim did not go further at that point. The man also never testified.

To honor the man’s request about as little disclosure as possible, Trabold, who prosecuted Rinke, told the defense of the allegation but “further indicated that this information would only be revealed to the sentencing court if Rinke made an argument prior to or at sentencing that he had never acted out on his sexual interest in minors,” Trabold wrote in the new court filing.

“As a result,” Trabold wrote, “Rinke did not make that argument at sentencing” and the man’s information was not publicly disclosed at the time. Trabold also wrote that, even without the disclosure, Rinke was sentenced in February 2012 to 19 years and seven months in federal prison, only five months below the statutory maximum sentence for Rinke’s crime. U.S. District Judge Sean J. McLaughlin, who presided, also sentenced Rinke to 30 years of supervised release.

Trabold wrote that Rinke’s request for early release from prison prompted the renewed disclosure of the molestation allegation. The man who said Rinke abused him as a minor has been “consulted recently about the public disclosure of this information about Rinke,” Trabold wrote, “and has agreed to the disclosure because he believes that Rinke is far too much of a danger to the community to be released before he finishes serving his sentence.”

Status of the case

The decision on whether to release Rinke early is up to U.S. District Judge Susan Paradise Baxter, who is assigned the case. She inherited it from McLaughlin, who retired as a judge in 2013.

Rinke’s push to get out of prison started on July 7, when his lawyer filed a request for what is known as “compassionate release” in light of COVID-19.

Rinke is susceptible to COVID-19 because he is obese and suffers from, among other ailments, asthma, hypertension and chronic kidney disease, wrote Rinke’s lawyer, Zachary Newland, of Rutland, Vermont. Rinke would live under house arrest with his parents in Erie if he were to leave prison, Newland wrote.

Trabold on July 28 filed his response, which includes the molestation allegation and the argument that Rinke is not at risk for getting sick in prison. He wrote that Allenwood Low, the facility where Rinke is incarcerated, “has had no positive tests to date for COVID-19.”

Newland filed another document on Aug. 21, arguing that Rinke has rehabilitated himself while in prison and deserves early release under the circumstances.

“Compassionate release would not undermine the goals of Rinke’s original sentence,” Newland wrote. “In fact, it is the only sure way to protect Rinke from contracting COVID-19, which could very well end his life.”

Newland in his court filings does not refer to the allegation that Rinke molested a minor. The Erie Times-News asked Newland if he had investigated the allegation and if he had any comment on it.

“David Rinke is seeking compassionate release from the court based on the global pandemic ravaging our nation’s prison system,” Newland said in an email. “Mr. Rinke is seeking mercy today from the court and does not have any comment beyond his court filings at this time.”

‘Can never be trusted’

The FBI charged Rinke in February 2011 after an undercover agent in Arizona obtained images of child pornography from a computer account that was traced to him.

Rinke pleaded guilty in September 2011 to one count of receipt and distribution of child pornography. He was sentenced on Feb. 13, 2012, and he had been in prison since his arrest in February 2011. He is scheduled to finish his prison sentence on Nov. 2, 2027, including credit for good behavior, according to prison records.

Rinke’s prosecution and sentence brought scrutiny to the Erie School District. Included in Rinke’s collection of pornography, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said, were pictures Rinke had taken of clothed local students’ groins. Court records revealed that the district repeatedly warned Rinke about befriending students. The district raised concerns with Rinke at a meeting in 2006 and with a letter in 2010.

The Erie School District superintendent at the time, Jay Badams, said in 2011 that Rinke’s conduct appeared “innocuous on the surface” and “it was simply a case of a teacher being too familiar with students.”

The Catholic Diocese of Erie had no reports about inappropriate behavior by Rinke when he taught at St. Andrew School, the diocese said in response to questions from the Erie Times-News. The newspaper sent the diocese a copy of the court filing that included the molesta...

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