Former Michigan educator sentenced to 60 years in prison for child exploitation

Posted at 4:25 PM, Oct 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-20 16:25:23-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A former Michigan teacher and principal has been sentenced to 60 years in prison for child exploitation, the U.S. Department of Justice announced Tuesday.

James Verne Russell, 50, was also sentenced Oct. 8 to 20 to 95 years in a related sexual assault case.

Judge Janet Neff says the case “is about as serious as it gets” because of the extended length of time and “circumstances in which you took advantage of children.”

Russell was an elementary school teacher for 16 years and an elementary school principal for six years in the Ravenna and North Muskegon school districts.

A teacher filed a complaint in June 2018 about Russell’s “unusual interest” in two students, after which the school district suspended Russell. He later resigned.

He then moved to Las Vegas and joined the Clark County School District as a fourth grade teacher, where he came to the FBI Las Vegas Child Exploitation Task Force’s attention in March 2019.

A tip said Russell had uploaded dozens of images, some depicting child pornography, according to the Department of Justice.

Russell confessed to possessing the photos, and a child confirmed he was depicted in them and that Russell had sexually molested him for years.

Investigations revealed that another boy had been abused in 2017 and a third individual had been since 1996.

Russel began his career in education in 1996 and volunteered to work with children in many capacities, including as a long-term guardian, babysitter, elementary and middle school basketball coach, lifeguard, camp counselor and youth ministries assistant at various churches.

“Russel’s conduct is not one of opportunity or an isolated aberration,” the U.S. attorney’s office said. “His was a deliberate and dedicated career of manipulation and sexual abuse.”