Sesame Street Composer Facing Child Pornography Charges
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — An award-winning composer and former fine arts instructor at a private school in Charleston pleaded not guilty Monday to making child pornography.
Fernando Rivas, 59, also pleaded not guilty to using a computer to send the images across state lines and possessing child pornography images in April 2011.
Federal prosecutors said that in 2010 and 2011, Rivas coerced a person under the age of 18 to engage in sexually explicit conduct for the purpose of taking pictures.
Also Monday, Rivas posted 10 percent of a $300,000 bond and was placed on house arrest except for work or other court-sanctioned outings, records show. He was also ordered not to have contact with the alleged victim, not to access the Internet or be around any children without supervision.
Neither Rivas nor his attorney immediately responded to messages Monday.
According to police records, officers with the North Charleston Police Department and FBI searched Rivas’ Ladson home in April after a person arrested in New Jersey led them to Rivas. On Rivas’ computer, officers said they found numerous pictures of child pornography, some of which had been sent to the person arrested in New Jersey.
Rivas also faces state charges of sexual exploitation of a minor, but that case is on hold during the federal action against him, according to a spokesman for North Charleston police.
Rivas worked as a jazz music instructor at Charleston private school Porter-Gaud from 2002 until 2009, when he left because of increasing work elsewhere, head of school DuBose Egleston said Monday. The indictment does not say whether the alleged victim was a Porter-Gaud student or had any connection to the school.
“We are unaware of any connection between the charges against him and Porter-Gaud, but we are cooperating with law enforcement in their investigation,” Egleston told The Associated Press in a statement.
According to his professional website, Rivas was born in Cuba and graduated from the Juilliard School of Music. Writing music for television, radio, film and theater, Rivas won Emmys in 1995 and 1996 for his work on “Sesame Street.” In 1998, Gloria Estefan recorded one of his songs on “Elmopalooza,” a Sesame Street Productions piece that won a Grammy for best children’s album.
Porter-Gaud was embroiled in scandal in the 1990s when former students claimed a teacher had sexually abused them. Eddie Fischer, who taught at Porter-Gaud and other area schools, died in 2002 while serving a 20-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to sex abuse charges.
Dozens of former students sued Porter-Gaud, alleging administrators did little or nothing to stop Fischer when he worked there in the 1970s and 1980s, and a jury in 2000 awarded $105 million in damages. That case and more than 20 others were later settled out of court for tens of millions of dollars.
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