ROCHESTER, N.Y. - When police and prosecutors managed to open the contents on Peter Kiwitt's telephone in late summer of 2019, they found 35 folders with photos of young women: Many were older teenagers or young women in explicit sexual positions or engaged in sex.
However, there was a folder with photos of a minor - a 17-year-old girl. Some were normal every day photographs; some were of her naked; and one was of her funeral that came days after her overdose on heroin.
Kiwitt, a 62-year-old former Rochester Institute of Technology professor, recently pleaded guilty in federal court to sex trafficking by coercion. The 17-year-old was one girl whom Kiwitt supplied heroin and then sex trafficked, according to court papers. He would take her money after the encounters, then feed her addiction, prosecutors allege.
"He presents himself as a married man, a professional accomplished person," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Melissa Marangola. "He used that to manipulate these girls."
Kiwitt did not provide the 17-year-old with the heroin that killed her, but he had given her heroin before and was her pimp, court papers say. The girl's older sister, whom Kiwitt also sex trafficked, provided police and federal prosecutors with the evidence that led to his arrest.
Ultimately, Kiwitt pleaded guilty to trafficking the older sister by coercion.
"But for her sister coming forward, we would not be here," Marangola said.'Operation Stolen Innocence':More than 170 charged in Florida child sex trafficking network
Problems during university position
At Rochester Institute of Technology, Kiwitt was an assistant professor at the school of film and animation.He also was involved in several films that had national circulation, including a 1996 movie that focused on the sexual abuse of a teenager.
Reporting from the RIT student-run Reporter magazine shows that Kiwitt had issues of misconduct while there but continued teaching. A 2017 article says that Kiwitt had two Title IX complaints against him; specifics were not detailed but those complaints can include allegations of sexual harassment.
There were numerous negative student evaluations focusing on his behavior, and colleagues also had concerns, the article said. "Kiwitt's time as a professor came with a lot of talk among students about his alleged inappropriate verbal and physical behavior," according to the Reporter.
RIT officials said they could not comment on a specific individual.
"RIT works to foster an environment that encourages people to come forward and report incidents of violations of policy (Title IX), or actions that threaten the health, safety or well-being of members of the RIT community," RIT spokesperson Bob Finnerty said in an email. "Policies and procedures are in place to ensure that such reports are acted upon expeditiously."
In 2017, Kiwitt was arrested on charges of possessing child pornography. He was sentenced to 10 years probation and placed on the sex offender registry.
"After not returning to his position as a professor the semester after his arrest, he reportedly sent out emails to alumni closest to him and past advisees claiming he had left RIT to pursue filmmaking full-time," according to the Reporter.
On police's radar
Only about a month before her death, the 17-year-old told police that she was being "pimped out" by Kiwitt, records show.
Police were interviewing her about possible sex work activities. She said he had "never been physical with her" but "scared her with his threats and tone," a report says. She said he "supplied her with heroin and fentanyl."
In January 2019, the teenager died of an overdose at the home of a sex trafficking client, who'd left her as he went to work. Kiwitt "was already on law enforcement's radar" and the death added more urgency, Marangola said.
Police found other young women "who indicated that they engaged in sexual relationship with (Kiwitt)," Marangola said at a 2020 hearing. "He supplied them with drugs; and ... he also obtained clients for them. They engaged in commercial sex acts with those clients."
Kiwitt was doing this while still on probation, which allowed his telephones to be searched. It was on one of his phones that, with a search, police discovered the sexually explicit photos, including some of the teenager who died.
They also found the photo of the girl's funeral. She was the only minor whom law enforcement could link to Kiwitt.
In his plea, Kiwitt admitted that he provided heroin to the sister of the teen who died and also found clients for her. He acknowledged that he manipulated and criminally coerced the young woman.Contact Follow Gary Craig on Twitter: @gcraig1
Kiwitt is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 22 and faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years in prison. The Monroe County Sheriff's Office and the FBI jointly investigated Kiwitt's crimes.