Former UVA associate dean Michael Morris pleads guilty to child porn charges

File photo. File photo.

Appearing calm and dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit issued by the Central Virginia Regional Jail, where he has been held since his November 2013 arrest, former UVA associate dean Michael G. Morris, 50, appeared in U.S. District Court in Charlottesville on Monday, April 21, where he pleaded guilty to receiving, distributing, and possessing child pornography.

Michael Morris. Contributed photo.

According to prosecutors, the investigation into Morris began in January 2012 when Morris, a Crozet resident and father who was living separately from his family at the time of the offenses, initiated contact with an undercover North Carolina-based FBI task force agent posing as a child porn collector on a peer-to-peer file sharing site. Morris, using the handle Funshooter2006,  told the agent he was sexually interested in teenagers, according to prosecutors, and the two agreed to trade files, prompting the investigation.

The FBI traced Morris through his IP address and eventually discovered more than 4,000 images of child exploitation on three computers and four hard drives, according to courtroom testimony. According to testimony from Assistant U.S. Attorney Nancy Healey, the images depicted both boys and girls ranging in age from toddlers to teenagers, and included some labeled “PTHC” for “preteen hardcore.” Some showed adult males engaged in sexual acts with prepubescent children.

Additionally, Morris admitted he enticed 14- to 16-year-old girls to create explicit videos via webcam but denied he’d had actual sexual contact with anyone underage.

“He is remorseful, ashamed and embarrassed,” said Morris’ attorney David Heilberg, reached by phone after the hearing. “He’s a nice man, and in the context of an entire accomplished life, this is sad.”

Healey noted that the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children had quickly identified one of the girls in the lewd material and later identified several more.

Morris, an information technology expert who resigned from his McIntire School of Commerce post in January, according to UVA spokesperson McGregor McCance, faces a mandatory minimum of five years and as much as 50. He’s scheduled for sentencing on July 14.

At a press conference following the hearing, U.S. Attorney Tim Heaphy emphasized that Morris had not conducted any of his illicit activities at UVA, and praised the efforts of the agencies involved in the investigation.

Morris’ arrest was the first in series of recent high profile stings on area educators. On April 15, former Western Albemarle High School teacher John Daniel Patterson was arrested in Verona (see News Brief, page 14), and in February, popular Venable Elementary School Teacher Corey Schock was arrested at his city home and charged with multiple child pornography offenses. Schock’s case was transferred to federal court in March, and he has been released to his Pennsylvania-based mother’s custody pending trial. —With additional reporting by Barbara Nordin

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