A Madison East High School business teacher who came under scrutiny in December after students found cameras in their hotel rooms during a school field trip was charged Wednesday in federal court.
David M. Kruchten, 37, was arrested Thursday morning and made his initial appearance this afternoon, pleading not guilty with about two dozen high school students in attendance.
A detention hearing to determine if he will be released with conditions or held until his trial is scheduled for 2 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 5.
The incident during the two-day trip with 15 students on Dec. 6 to Dec. 8 has roiled the school’s popular business-oriented DECA program, and school district officials have offered counseling and other services to the alleged victims.
Kruchten was placed on administrative leave after the trip, during which multiple students who were staying at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Minneapolis discovered hidden video recording devices. As of Thursday, he remained employed with the district and on administrative leave.
The charges apparently relate to incidents other than the Minneapolis trip.
A grand jury indictment unsealed by the U.S. Western District Court after his arrest charges Kruchten with seven counts of attempting to produce child pornography. The charges involve seven different victims. Each count carries a penalty of between 15 and 30 years in prison.
Each count charges him with using hidden recording devices.
Six of the counts pertain to an alleged crime on Oct. 27, 2019, and one was dated Jan. 20, 2019.
According to the East High School calendar, Kruchten and another teacher accompanied a group of 15 students on an earlier field trip to Wisconsin Dells on Oct. 27. There were no field trips listed for the group on Jan. 20.
After the Minneapolis trip, the state Justice Department issued a statement that investigators were seeking information about past DECA trips.
According to documents reportedly obtained by Isthmus, Minneapolis police have referred the case to the Hennepin County District Attorney, which will make charging decisions in the case.
U.S. Attorney Scott Blader announced he will not answer questions relating to the case.
“My office is committed to vigorously investigating those who target children and prosecuting them to the fullest extent of the law,” Blader said in a statement.
Kruchten has led the school’s popular DECA program for years. According to his Linkedin page, he has been a business education and marketing teacher at East since 2008. He also recently served as a girls’ tennis coach.
“This news is incredibly disturbing to the MMSD family and our community,” said interim Madison Metropolitan School District Superintendent Jane Belmore in a statement. “We want to assure you that MMSD will do everything we can do to support our students and community through this unimaginably challenging time.”
According to the announcement from Blader, the indictment is the result of a joint effort by the state Justice Department, the Minneapolis Police Department and the Police Department in Cottage Grove, where Kruchten lives. On Dec. 12 police from Cottage Grove and Minneapolis raided Kruchten’s home.
East High interim Principal Brendan Kearney said in a letter to families that law enforcement officials have shared no details in the case with the district.
“As has been their practice throughout this investigation, the Department of Justice has not shared any additional details with the school or district,” he said. “These charges represent a violation of the sacred trust that our students place in us as educators, and as both a school leader and a parent, it is difficult for me to express the mix of sadness and anger that I am experiencing at this time.”
School Board president Gloria Reyes wrote in an email to the Cap Times that, “the Board and the district regularly review policies, practices and guidance, especially after incidents resulting in harm to our students, and this case is certainly no exception.”
District policy requires one adult for every 10 students on an overnight field trip, with at least one of the chaperones being an MMSD employee.
“Strong policy, practice and guidelines are essential to ensure student safety and staff accountability,” she wrote. “However, as we strive to provide students the best educational experience possible, it is a harsh reality that policy is not always a fail-safe to prevent an individual’s actions or choices to not only violate policy but also the sacred trust that students, families and community place on us as educators.”
She added that “this violation of trust … makes this news just as much disturbing as it is heartbreaking.”
“Our students are at the heart of everything that we do and I assure you that all members of the Board of Education and District staff will continue that focus, and ensure that our students at East High are provided the support they need to help them through this ordeal,” she wrote.
As Kruchten’s defense attorney argued for his release with conditions Thursday, students in attendance audibly gasped, scoffed and cried at various times.
Magistrate Judge Peter Oppeneer delayed a decision on his release until Wednesday, after the United States pre-trial services team has interviewed Kruchten.
Federal defender Joseph Bugni argued the allegations were for “isolated incidents” in which Kruchten was in specific circumstances with students, and therefore conditions like a GPS monitor keeping him at home and limited access to electronic devices would suffice.
“This isn’t somebody who’s out there preying on every 15- to 18-year-old there is,” Bugni said. “This is somebody who is not a danger to the community.”
Bugni also said Kruchten is not a “flight risk” given that he’s known about potential charges since the investigation began in December and has remained in the community.
He acknowledged the tense atmosphere surrounding his client, saying he was “not blind to everything that’s sitting behind me,” referencing the media and members of the public in the gallery.
The prosecution stated the government knows of “at least” five occasions in which recording devices were found in rooms Kruchten was supervising, adding that he was photographed with a box of the devices outside the Minnesota hotel and later lied to police about what he had done with them.
Bugni argued that the government's case did not include any pictures, only recovered devices.
“We don’t have any hard proof of what was produced, and that’s why this charge is 'attempt,'” he said.