Benjamin Felker, office coordinator and lab associate for the Wheaton College geology department, was arrested Tuesday, Sept. 20, after police searched his Wheaton home and uncovered “at least four videos and multiple images depicting child pornography” according to the DuPage County State Attorney’s Office.
He has been charged with four counts of possession of child pornography. In Illinois, possession of child pornograpy is a class 2 felony, meaning that a guilty verdict could result in three to seven years imprisonment.
According to a statement released on Wheaton’s website, campus authorities were made aware of Felker’s arrest Wednesday morning. He was then placed on unpaid leave and barred from returning to campus.
In an email to the campus community, dean for student engagement Steve Ivester, dean of student care and graduate student life Allison Ash, and dean of residence life Justin Heth stated, “Wheaton College categorically abhors pornography, which exploits the most vulnerable members of our society.” They also reminded faculty, staff and students of resources available on campus for counseling and other emotional and spiritual assistance.
Similarly, Wheaton College President Philip Ryken said in a statement that the college is “disturbed” by the charges and “fundamentally opposes the production and use of pornography, especially child pornography, which by its very nature exploits and victimizes the most vulnerable.”
State’s attorney Robert B. Berlin emphasized that “these charges are in no way connected with Mr. Felker’s association with Wheaton College. Authorities at the college have been extremely cooperative and helpful and for that I thank them.”
Felker, an alumnus from 2010, began his role on campus this semester, having moved to Wheaton in July according to his Facebook account. One student who knew Felker said he seemed like a “bubbly, funny guy” and described him as the “greeter” of the department. “This news was so shocking because he’s just the last person I would ever suspect of something like this.”
Felker is not the first Wheaton employee to face charges regarding child pornography. Donald Ratcliff, a former professor of Christian education in Wheaton’s graduate school, was arrested in 2012 when police found at least 500 images of child pornography in his possession. He was convicted of one count of aggravated child pornography as part of a plea deal and originally sentenced to 42 months in prison.
According to the Daily Herald, however, his sentence was later reduced to 180 days in jail, the same sentence received earlier this year by former Wheaton student Alex Lim for recording videos of Wheaton College students showering and posting them on the internet. The same judge, Hon. John J. Kinsella, presided over both cases.
Felker’s bail has been set at $250,000. He is due to appear in court Oct. 4 with Judge Robert Miller presiding.