Man gets 4 months in video voyeurism

Former school worker taped staff in bathroom

is 2nd jailed under '99 law

Man jailed in secret taping of school staff

North Laurel

August 21, 2002|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

A 37-year-old Westminster man who videotaped his co-workers using a bathroom in their North Laurel school last year was sentenced yesterday to a four-month jail term -- making him the second person successfully prosecuted in Howard County under a 3-year-old video peeping tom law.

Wade Carl Hoffarth, who was a maintenance technician at the Phillips School at the time the tape was made, pleaded guilty yesterday to three counts of unlawful video surveillance for what his attorney said was an aborted plan to make a "quick buck" by posting the tape on the Internet.

"I hurt a lot of people. I hurt friends, abused trust, hurt my family. Every relationship in my life has been affected by this," a soft-spoken Hoffarth told Howard District Judge Neil Edward Axel. "I am truly, truly sorry."

But Axel, who said letters of support for Hoffarth initially led him to consider a more lenient sentence, said he could not ignore the lasting effect on the seven people caught on tape.

"You may not have thought that you were going to harm anyone ... but the victims in this case have had, and continue to have, a very high price to pay," Axel said before handing down an 18-month sentence -- six months for each count -- and suspending all but four months. Axel also placed Hoffarth, a married father of a 13-year-old son, on three years' probation.

With his conviction, Hoffarth becomes the second man jailed for video voyeurism in the county since the passage of a 1999 state law that makes such tapings illegal.

In the first Howard County case, Elkridge resident Edward George Campion III was convicted of taping two female tenants in their private rooms and sentenced to six months in jail.

Hoffarth, of the 200 block of Beacon Mews Court, was arrested in March, four months after he left his employment at the North Laurel special education school and just days after a school employee found a videotape in a spare videocassette recorder that showed teachers using a staff bathroom, according to court papers.

The tape initially shows Hoffarth using the toilet, then looking up at the camera and adjusting the recorder, according to court papers. In addition to Hoffarth, the tape caught five women and two men using the bathroom, according to court papers. One of the women was seen using a breast pump. Investigators later found a power cord leading from the bathroom to a locked telephone closet.

Two of the victims, both teachers, told Axel yesterday that Hoffarth, who left the school in November, had been a trusted friend.

"I now think if Wade is capable of this, what else is he capable of?" one of the women said. The Sun is not identifying the women because of the nature of the crime. "He certainly fooled a lot of people into thinking he is a nice guy."

The other woman said she fears her pictures are floating around cyberspace.

But Hoffarth's lawyer, David G. Weisgerber, said that although his client initially conceived of the taping as a way to solve his financial problems, "he immediately had regret." Hoffarth put the tape in his office and forgot about it, Weisgerber said.

Hoffarth was working for the Frederick County school system at the time of his arrest but was immediately fired from that job and has been working as a self-employed painter since, Weisgerber said.

"He is not a vile man," Weisgerber said. "He is a decent man who did a vile act."

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