Former Portland teacher met with student while under investigation for child pornography

May 12—A former Portland teacher was already suspected of possessing child pornography and appeared to be drunk when he visited a student in March and offered him $2,000.

Both an attorney for Travis McCutcheon, 53, and an assistant U.S. attorney prosecuting the case acknowledged the incident at a detention hearing Friday, during which a judge decided to release McCutcheon from federal custody on an unsecured $40,000 bond. He is not allowed to work with children or spend time with anyone younger than 18 without another adult present who is aware of the charges against him.

McCutcheon has worked in Maine schools for 30 years, according to records from the state Public Employment Retirement Center. He was most recently working with students who have behavioral and emotional health needs in Portland as a teacher in the Breathe program at Lyman Moore Middle School.

His last day at Lyman was Feb. 2, the same day police searched his home, according to court records and the school district. He was also an ed tech at Lyseth Elementary School from October 2018 to February 2019 and taught at Westbrook, Raymond, Lisbon, Glenburn, and Auburn schools dating back to his first teaching job in Westbrook in 1992.

He was arrested and charged Monday with one count of advertising, promoting, presenting, distributing and soliciting an obscene visual depiction of minors, and one count of possessing child pornography. The charges came after state police received a tip from the National Center for Exploited and Missing Children in December that a Google Drive account associated with McCutcheon's email address was storing two videos depicting young boys engaged in sexual conduct.

On Friday, McCutcheon appeared in person before U.S. Magistrate Karen Wolf shackled and wearing all khaki after his week at the Androscoggin County jail, where he was being held in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service. McCutcheon only spoke briefly to answer questions from Wolf, at times shaking his head at allegations from the prosecutor.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicholas Heimbach told the court Friday that McCutcheon was on paid administrative leave in March when he visited the home of a student with special needs and gave him $2,000. Prosecutors said he smelled of alcohol.

The student later said the event "gave him pedo vibes," Heimbach said, referring to a pretrial services report that was not publicly available Friday. Heimbach did not accuse McCutcheon of physically abusing the child, but said it was evidence of grooming behavior.

McCutcheon's attorney Thomas Hallett said the behavior was inappropriate, but it isn't out of the norm for teachers to try and help students from impoverished families.

"This was not an uncommon event that teachers would do this," Hallett said.

McCutcheon had visited this student before, Hallett said, offering food and clothes. Hallett said the teacher showed up in March with $2,000, expecting the forthcoming charges would be the end of his teaching career, and that he would never see this student again.

Portland schools did not respond Friday afternoon to emailed questions about McCutcheon visiting a student, and whether or how long he was on paid leave after his last day in class on Feb. 2. The district has declined to comment on the charges against McCutcheon. He is one of two district employees who worked with students in special education programs who are now in court for charges related to child pornography.

Benjamin Conroy, who pleaded guilty last year to sexually abusing a 6-year-old student and recording it, is scheduled to be sentenced Monday.

"These are the worst charges you can get charged with," Hallett said after Friday's hearing. He said the stigma of these charges, coupled with the strict conditions of release McCutcheon agreed to Friday, will be difficult for his client.

While awaiting trial, McCutcheon will be physically and digitally monitored at all times. He'll be subject to random searches and home detention but will be allowed to go to work. He has to find a job but is barred from working with anyone under the age of 18, or even being in a minor's presence without an adult there who has been approved by the federal government and is aware of McCutcheon's charges.

McCutcheon is also barred from alcohol use and firearms. His father noted during Friday's hearing that a few antique firearms in their home had been removed since McCutcheon's arrest.

McCutcheon told police he had not viewed or requested child pornography when they searched his Portland home in February, according to court records. Hallett said there are several "anomalies" in police reports "that are particularly interesting to a defense lawyer," but declined to provide further detail because the case is still "in its infancy."

In a digital search two weeks later, the videos — which showed boys between 9 and 15 years old engaged in sexual conduct — were still on one of McCutcheon's accounts, and he had used the two email addresses to solicit materials from at least 32 different email addresses between Nov. 24-29, police said.

McCutcheon denied ever seeing the videos or having searched for them after police showed him a still image from one of the clips. He told police in February he had deleted one email address linked to the Google Drive account in November or December 2022 because he received an email alert saying the account had been hacked.

The affidavit says police believe McCutcheon was referring to a notification from Google that they had found the exploitative videos and locked his account.