ROCHESTER, NY – When police and prosecutors managed to open the contents of Peter Kiwitt’s phone in late summer 2019, they found 35 files containing photos of young women: many were older teenage girls or young women in explicit sexual positions or engaged in sexual relations.
However, there was a file with photos of a minor – a 17-year-old girl. Some were normal, everyday photographs; some were of her naked; and one concerned his funeral, which took place a few days after his heroin overdose.
Kiwitt, a 62-year-old former Rochester Institute of Technology professor, recently pleaded guilty in federal court to coercive sex trafficking. The 17-year-old was a girl Kiwitt supplied heroin to and then sexually trafficked, court documents show. He would take money from her after dating and then feed her addiction, prosecutors said.
“He presents himself as a married man, an accomplished professional person,” said US Deputy Prosecutor 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 previously given heroin and was her pimp, court documents show. The girl’s older sister, whom Kiwitt also sexually trafficked, provided police and federal prosecutors with the evidence that led to her arrest.
Ultimately, Kiwitt pleaded guilty to trafficking the older sister by coercion.
“Without her sister stepping forward, we wouldn’t be here,” Marangola said.
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Problems during the academic post
At the Rochester Institute of Technology, Kiwitt was an assistant professor in the school of film and animation. He has also appeared in several nationally released films, including a 1996 film that focused on adolescent sexual abuse.
A report from the student-run Reporter magazine shows Kiwitt struggled with misconduct during his stay, but continued to teach. A 2017 article says Kiwitt had two Title IX complaints against him; details were not detailed, but these complaints may include allegations of sexual harassment.
There were many negative reviews from students focusing on his behavior, and his colleagues also had concerns, according to the article. “Kiwitt’s time as a teacher has come with a lot of discussion among students about his allegedly inappropriate verbal and physical behavior,” according to the Reporter.
RIT officials said they couldn’t comment on a specific person.
“RIT strives to foster an environment that encourages people to come forward and report incidents of policy violations (Title IX) or actions that threaten the health, safety or well-being of community members. RIT, ”said RIT spokesperson Bob Finnerty. in an email. “Policies and procedures are in place to ensure these reports are dealt with promptly.”
In 2017, Kiwitt was arrested for possession of child pornography. He was sentenced to 10 years probation and entered in the sex offender registry.
“After failing to return to his teaching post for the semester after his arrest, he reportedly sent emails to former students closest to him and former counselors claiming he had left RIT to devote himself to full-time filmmaking, ”according to the Reporter.
On the police radar
Just about a month before her death, the 17-year-old told police she was “near” Kiwitt, according to records.
The police were questioning him about possible sexual activity. She said he had “never been physical with her” but “scared her with his threats and tone,” according to a report. 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 had left her on his way to work. Kiwitt “was already on law enforcement radar” and death added more urgency, Marangola said.
Police found other young women “who said they had sex with (Kiwitt),” Marangola said at a 2020 hearing. “He provided 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 phones to be searched. It was on one of his phones that, during a search, police discovered the sexually explicit photos, including some of the deceased teenager.
They also found the photo of the girl’s funeral. She was the only minor that the police could tie to Kiwitt.
In her plea, Kiwitt admitted to supplying the deceased teenager’s sister with heroin and also finding clients for her. He admitted to having manipulated and criminally coerced the young woman.
Kiwitt is expected to be sentenced on November 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.
Contact Follow Gary Craig on Twitter: @gcraig1