GRAND RAPIDS, MI — A former educator who worked at several West Michigan school districts has been sentenced to 60 years in federal prison for sexual exploitation of two minors.
Federal prosecutors say James Verne Russell, 50, sexually abused a boy he taught as a fifth grader at Ravenna Public Schools and whom he took guardianship of in the late 1990s.
The boy was repeatedly sexually assaulted, prosecutors said, until he was in about the 10th grade.
Prosecutors say he also abused a 6-year-old boy while principal at Muskegon Heights’ Edgewood Elementary. He had befriended the boy’s mother and offered to act as a “big brother to the boy, taking him for ice cream and swimming after school and weekends.
Russell worked at North Muskegon, Ravenna and Chippewa Hills school districts, as well as Muskegon Heights where he resigned in 2018 following a police and Child Protective Services investigation.
He then moved to Las Vegas, Nevada, in 2018 where he became a fourth-grade teacher.
It was in Nevada where Russell was arrested by federal agents for allegedly having and sharing pornographic images of children.
The investigation and arrest of Russell happened after a tip was called into a hotline about photos of a nude boy that were uploaded to a website.
During a sentencing hearing, Judge Janet Neff said the offense was “about as serious as you it gets” because of the ongoing abuse and “circumstances in which you took advantage of children.”
Neff said it was disturbing that Russell took advantage of children in troubled family situations.
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