Former Muskegon teacher sentenced in federal child sex abuse

Muskegon County
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A mug shot of James Russell. (April 2019)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A former Muskegon-area teacher and principal has been sentenced on federal child sex abuse charges.

James Russell, 50, was sentenced to 60 years in the sexual exploitation of two minors. Russell was also sentenced on Oct. 8 in Muskegon County on charges related to the sexual assault case and is serving an addition 20 to 95 years in prison.

Russell worked in education for 22 years as a teacher and elementary school principle in Ravenna and North Muskegon school districts. Another teacher found Russell’s interest in two students unusual and filed a complaint in 2018. He was suspended by the school district and then resigned.

In 2019, he moved to Las Vegas where he was a fourth-grade teacher at Clark County School District. He then caught the attention of the FBI Las Vegas Child Exploitation Task Force after dozens of child porn images were uploaded online. Russell confessed to uploading those photos. Norton Shores Police and FBI Grand Rapids interview victims in West Michigan who say Russell sexually abused them. One of the victim told investigators that abused by Russell started in 1996 — his first year in education.

“Is about as serious as it gets,” U.S. District Judge Janet Neff said in court.

Neff said this case was one of the most unusual she’s seen in her 32 years as a judge.

“You come face-to-face with a human being whose behavior you just can’t understand,” Neff said. “There are very few cases that will stick out to me after all these years, but yours will. I promise you.”

Authorities say that at various times, Russell has also been a guardian, babysitter, coach, lifeguard, camp counselor and in youth ministry.

“He worked and volunteered his way into the lives of our children, not as a service to our community, but as a means to identify, target and sexually exploit vulnerable children. Those who are in a position of trust and sexually abuse children will be held accountable,” U.S. Attorney Andrew Birge said.

Anyone with information or has concerns of child abuse should contact local law enforcement officials.

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