Eugene Ballantyne, 29, of Running Springs appeared Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Riverside on one count of receiving and distributing child pornography, according to the FBI’s Los Angeles division.
Ballantyne taught social studies at Arrowview Middle School until two weeks ago, when the accusations came out.
Federal agents arrested Ballantyne at his home Tuesday morning.
During an FBI search at his home March 1, Ballantyne admitted to agents that he had been communicating with the girl in South Brunswick, N.J., since January, according to the criminal complaint. He also said he received pornographic images from another girl he met two years earlier and that he traveled 180 miles to have sex with a third child, FBI officials said.
Ballantyne met the New Jersey girl on an Internet chat site, according to the complaint. He went by the name John Baldwin. Ballantyne allegedly sent nude pictures of himself to the girl and received partially nude, sexually suggestive photos of the alleged victim.
FBI officials said he was demanding during phone conversations with the girl and persuaded her to engage in sexual activity while they talked.
He also asked the victim to delete his pictures, text messages and emails and told the girl not to tell anyone about their relationship, according to the complaint.
The complaint filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office says Ballantyne sent messages expressing his love for the child.
“Really it’s so nice to have you in my life. I only wish you were here so I could really express my feelings for you,” he wrote in one of his notes.
The South Brunswick Police Department began investigating the case when a parent of the child reported the relationship earlier this year.
In court proceedings Tuesday before Judge David T. Bristow, an FBI agent testified that Ballantyne contacted a 13-year-old female student at Arrowview – a day after federal agents served a search warrant at his home.
Special Agent Jeffrey Stiff testified that Brinda Leon, a human-resources official at San Bernardino City Unified School District, told him just before the court proceedings that Ballantyne had contacted the Arrowview student via Facebook at 8:30 p.m. March 2.
“Mr. Ballantyne stated that he liked a young girl. He asked if she ever kissed a boy,” Stiff testified, in summary. The girl felt “uncomfortable” and told a principal, who told Leon, Stiff said.
The testimony was the “tipping” point for Bristow, who said he had been considering a conditional release for Ballantyne. Instead, Bristow said he was concerned about potential harm to the community and ordered the defendant held in custody of federal marshals.
But the judge added that he was willing to reconsider his decision if new information develops after federal prosecutors investigate the incident further.
Ballantyne returns to U.S. District Court in Riverside for a preliminary hearing March 27. An arraignment was scheduled for April 4.
Bristow ordered Ballantyne into the custody of U.S. marshals.
San Bernardino City Unified School District placed Ballantyne on paid administrative leave March 1, when the FBI told the district agents were searching his house. Ballantyne, who was hired in July 2010, resigned March 2, and parents were mailed a letter that day.
“The district takes all accusations of sexual misconduct seriously,” district spokeswoman Linda Bardere said before learning of Stiff’s testimony. “At this point, and it also comes out in the FBI report, we have no reason to believe Arrowview Middle School students were involved or in danger.”
However, investigators suspect he may have more victims.
Students at Arrowview Middle School painted conflicting pictures of Ballantyne on Tuesday, although none gave their names because of the sensitivity of the topic and their fears of retribution.
“Anyone who says that must be lying,” said one seventh- grade girl who said Ballantyne had substitute taught her class several times. “He’s a good teacher, and he’s nice. He wasn’t `too’ nice, though, you know?”
Other students said they had suspicions even before the accusations became public.
“He’d look at some of the girls `perv-y,’ and he was always going from happy to mean,” said an eighth-grade boy who had taken his class.
Neighbors said Ballantyne and his wife were a trusted member of a close-knit street.
“He was a super nice, church-going guy,” said neighbor Tylor Newman. “I never expected it. It’s just such a shocker.”
School Board President Barbara Flores said the school board was updated as soon as the FBI contacted district officials.
Anyone with information about this case or on additional victims may call the FBI at 888-226-8443.