David Kruchten, a former high school teacher in Madison, Wisconsin, was sentenced to 12 years in federal prison Friday after pleading guilty to secretly recording students while they got dressed, announced the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Wisconsin. 

Prosecutors said that Kruchten used his position as a business teacher at Madison East High School to gain access to students’ hotel rooms during overnight field trips to Wisconsin Dells, Lake Geneva, and Minneapolis, Minnesota in 2018 and 2019. 

He was charged last January, and resigned from his position at the high school the following month. Kruchten pleaded guilty in August 2021, after having denied the charges for more than a year. 

David Kruchten Secretly Filmed Students

According to prosecutors, students first found the recording devices during a December, 2019 field trip to Minneapolis.

“That evening, one of the students pressed down on an air freshener on the bathroom counter of her hotel room,” wrote the U.S. Attorney’s office in a statement. “When she pressed it, the device opened up and was revealed to be a surveillance camera.”

After the discovery, other students began to search their rooms for recording equipment, and found “air fresheners, a smoke detector, two alarm clocks, and several thermostats” that were housing video cameras, prosecutors said. 

The teens reported the equipment to their teacher and turned it over to him. 

Hotel staff said David Kruchten brought some of the devices to the front desk in the lobby, telling the employees that his students had found them “in a cabinet.” Police were reportedly not notified at the time. 

He later told investigators that he gave the recording devices to a hotel security guard, but Kruchten reportedly gave a description that “did not match” the security guards’ uniforms. Security staff also denied having met with the teacher, and surveillance footage had captured him throwing some of the devices into garbage bins around the hotel, prosecutors said. 

As the investigation unfolded, Madison East students submitted pictures they had taken in their hotel suites and bathrooms from previous trips with Kruchten — revealing that similar devices disguised in “digital clocks, thermostats, and tissue boxes” had been placed “on the counter, on the toilet, and on the wall,” officials wrote.

Ex-Wisconsin teacher David Kruchten got 12 years in prison Friday after admitting he secretly filmed students in their hotel rooms during overnight field trips.
Ex-Wisconsin teacher David Kruchten got 12 years in prison Friday after admitting he secretly filmed students in their hotel rooms during overnight field trips. Photo credit: Dane County Jail

David Kruchten Was a ‘Masterful’ Manipulator

At the sentencing hearing on Friday, students told U.S. District Judge James Peterson they felt “betrayed, sad and angry” at their one-time teacher. 

“Some [students] reported fear showering in hotels and checking air fresheners in public bathrooms to ensure they were not recording devices,” prosecutors wrote.  “Parents also reported betrayal and guilt for allowing their children to go on trips with [David Kruchten].”

The judge thanked the students for their courage in stepping forward and their help in bringing their former teacher to justice, prosecutors wrote

Before handing down his sentence, Judge Peterson accused Kruchten of engaging in “sustained and masterful manipulation” of the minors entrusted to his care, saying that the 39-year-old had exploited his status as a beloved teacher at Madison East. 

The judge also said that Kruchten was “either lying to the court or self-delusional,” when Kruchten had repeatedly denied that his crime was “sexually motivated” during legal proceedings.

The comment was in reference to a bizarre, hand-written, 8-page letter Kruchten had given the judge just days before sentencing. In it, Kruchten insisted he was “not a predator who decided to become a teacher to be close to kids,” but that he had an “obsession” with “spying” on people to see what they did when he wasn’t around.

“I know it’s very creepy and I’m very ashamed of it all,” he wrote. “I got hooked to the rush of sneaking around setting up and viewing the cameras. […] The rush wasn’t the image that I got, it was the rush of having spied.”

For pleading guilty to “attempting to produce obscene depictions of minors engaging in sexually explicit conduct” — and for crossing state lines to do the same — Judge Peterson sentenced David Kruchten to 12 years in a federal penitentiary, followed by 20 years of supervised release, prosecutors said.

Kruchten was originally charged with 14 counts of attempting to produce child pornography, a felony that carries a minimum 15 year sentence for each count. He reached a plea bargain in June, agreeing to plead guilty in exchange for the reduced sentence.