Former Carroll County Public Schools teacher and principal Kenneth Brian Fischer, 41, formerly of Westminster, was sentenced Monday to 22 years in federal prison and to undergo lifetime supervision for producing child pornography.
Judge Richard D. Bennett sentenced Fischer in the U.S. District Court of Maryland after hearing statements from Fischer, a victim’s mother, Fischer’s father and testimony from a psychologist.
Under the plea agreement, Fischer faced a maximum of 25 years incarceration and a minimum of 15. He pleaded guilty on Dec. 18 to one count of producing child pornography. Defense attorney Michael Montemarano, whose office is based in Ellicott City, requested the judge impose the minimum penalty, while assistant U.S. attorney Ayn Ducao sought the maximum.
Montemarano stated Fischer struggled to accept his sexual orientation as a closeted gay man and sought out males through Grindr, an online application through which homosexual men meet.
Before being sentenced, Fischer pledged to be a better person and said he would do all he could to serve the community.
“If I could take back poor choices I made, in a heartbeat I’d take them back,” Fischer said, crying as he spoke. “I can change who I am now” moving forward.
Fischer said the worst part of his punishment is not being able to see his three children.
“It won’t be the same me that comes out,” Fischer said. “I hate who I am.”
The mother of one of the 11 victims spoke up.
“He robbed my son of his innocence,” she said. “He is a monster.”
She detailed how her other son has been traumatized by what happened to his brother.
“Both of my sons’ lives will never be the same,” she said.
Ducao pointed to the mother’s statement as proof of the “ripple effect” Fischer’s actions had, noting the crime shook a “discreet community in Carroll County.”
“We have very good reason to trust teachers and the defendant broke that trust,” Ducao said.
Fischer admitted to engaging in sexual acts with seven underage boys, Ducao said, and abused his power as a teacher to get minors to trust him and also to guilt them into keeping the encounters secret.
“The defendant preyed on this victim population, which he knew was vulnerable,” Ducao said.
Several people wrote letters to the judge, praising Fischer’s character. Among them was his father, who also spoke at the sentencing.
“He had a dark secret in his closet,” his father said. “He’s still a good person. There’s still a lot of love in his heart.”
His father referenced his son’s years of academic achievements, numerous degrees, and service to the community.
Recidivism risk low, psychologist alleges
Montemarano brought forth Baltimore-based psychologist Gregory Lehne, who specializes in sexual and gender issues, to speak on recidivism — the likelihood of Fischer committing such acts again.
Lehne said he interviewed Fischer, put him through several tests, and compiled a 13-page report.
“I believe his risk of recidivism is low,” Lehne said.
Lehne explained how Fischer struggled to accept himself as gay when he was married and used Grindr as a way to meet gay males. Lehne noted that Grindr users are supposed to be 18 years old.
One of the reasons Lehne believes Fischer’s risk of recidivism is low is because he sought out males of various ages, most of which were of legal age, he said. Lehne said he determined Fischer did not exhibit any signs of a personality disorder.
“He has a great sense of control” in his overall life, Lehne said.
During Ducao’s questioning, she noted the defendant Lehne said had “control” over himself also called a 13-year-old his “fantasy.”
Bennett questioned how Lehne could allege Fischer has a lack of sexual interest in boys when he knowingly sought sex with underage boys. Bennett noted Fischer drove to Pennsylvania to have sex with a teenage boy in his car.
Fischer’s struggle with his sexuality went back to a young age, Montemarano said, as he lived in a community that would not have been accepting of this difference. He feared coming out as gay would end his career, according to Montemarano.
“For 40 years, Ken Fischer tried to be someone he was not and it tore him apart,” Montemarano said.
‘You, of all people’
Montemarano noted the victims chose to use Grindr and said most of them were at least 16 — the age of consent in Maryland.
Bennett made it clear that one’s sexual orientation and having sexual relations with minors are separate matters. Fischer could have continued to hide his homosexuality while having sex with adults, Bennett noted.
“This is just not a case of a grown man coming to grips with his sexuality,” Bennett said. “You preyed upon young people.”
Regardless of whether the young men Fischer had relations with were gay, Bennett said they were minors and too young to make such decisions.
“You damaged their lives irreparably,” Bennett said. “You did not give them time to grow. You, of all people, a teacher … .”
Bennett told Fischer the sentencing has to be about what he did and not who he may become.
Fischer is not permitted to have contact with any of the 11 victims and must pay $3,000 in restitution to each through prison wages.
Fischer must register as a sex offender.
Bennett credited Fischer for time served in federal custody since March 9, 2018 and recommended he receive credit for time served in state custody Sept. 13, 2017 to March 9, 2018. The latter will be decided by the Bureau of Prisons. Fischer is being held in the Central Detention Facility in Washington, D.C.
Bennett recommended Fischer receive any necessary mental health treatment and psychological counseling. He may not have contact with anyone under the age of 18 without permission of his probation officer.
“I think Judge Bennett gave Mr. Fischer a very fair hearing,” Montemarano said afterward, though 15 years would have been more “appropriate.”
As part of the plea agreement, the first charge against Fischer in the original indictment and seven other charges will be dropped, Bennett said.
Fischer’s sentencing had been twice delayed, first scheduled for May 20, then June 20.
According to the indictment, Fischer used social media apps to contact underage males, then entice and direct them to film and photograph themselves engaging in explicit sexual conduct.
Fischer was first arrested in September 2017 after he communicated with an undercover agent posing as an underage minor and attempted to solicit sex.
Police then executed a search on his Westminster residence. Evidence from a seized cellphone revealed Fischer had been communicating with minors since approximately November 2014 and continuing until the time of his arrest. He pleaded guilty in federal court to one count of producing child pornography, stemming from November 2014.
Fischer, the 2006 Carroll County Teacher of the Year while a science teacher at Winters Mill High School and later the principal at Manchester Valley High School, was employed by CCPS from 2000 until days after his 2017 arrest.