Former teacher pleads guilty to child pornography charges

COLUMBIA — An award-winning composer and former fine arts instructor at a private school in Charleston pleaded guilty Thursday to child pornography charges.


Fernando Rivas was in federal court in Charleston to enter the plea to making child pornography and using a computer to send the images across state lines. The hearing came a week before he was slated to go on trial.

Rivas could face up to 50 years in prison when he’s sentenced later. His attorney did not immediately return a message.

Agents searched Rivas’ Ladson home in April 2011 after someone arrested in New Jersey led them to him. On his computer, officers said, they found pictures of child pornography, some of which had been sent to the person arrested in New Jersey.

In 2010 and 2011, federal prosecutors say, Rivas coerced a person under the age of 18 to engage in sexually explicit conduct for the purpose of taking pictures.

As part of a plea agreement, Rivas agreed to give the government detailed financial information, submit to polygraph tests and be subject to lifetime supervision after his release from prison. Prosecutors also agreed to drop an additional child pornography charge as part of the deal. Rivas has been on house arrest since posting bond last year.

According to his professional Web site, the Cuba native graduated from the Juilliard School of Music. He wrote music for television, radio, film and theater, and 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 Award for best children’s album.

Rivas worked as a jazz music instructor at Charleston private school Porter-Gaud from 2002-09, when he left because of increasing work elsewhere, school officials have said. Prosecutors have not said whether the victim was a Porter-Gaud student or had any connection to the school.

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, served time 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.