Andrew Wolf, the Springside Chestnut Hill math teacher who was arrested and charged with multiple child exploitation offenses on Oct. 7, is being held without bail in federal detention while new …
Andrew Wolf, the Springside Chestnut Hill math teacher who was arrested and charged with multiple child exploitation offenses on Oct. 7, is being held without bail in federal detention while new details about his offenses have come to light.
Wolf, 41, was charged with receiving and distributing child pornography when the FBI raided his Roxborough home. New court filings, however, suggest that Wolf impersonated a teenage girl on Instagram to solicit a 13-year-old boy for pornographic pictures of himself. The same court document shows that Wolf also used an instant messaging app called Telegram to communicate “with other like-minded child predators,” and that he began using Telegram as early as February 2018 to communicate with another user, known only as “Mr. Pickles,” who also purported to be a teacher. Wolf and Mr. Pickles messaged about “their shared sexual interest in minor boys,” the document said, “including their own students.”
Furthermore, the document states that Wolf, who “was trusted to chaperone overnight school trips and off-campus field trips and events, such as accompanying children to Phillies games,” had been taking surreptitious photos of his students.
“While not pornographic in nature,” the photos “appear to have been surreptitiously taken by the defendant, suggesting that he had an interest in photographing students without their knowledge and maintaining the photos for himself,” the document states.
FBI investigators told the court that evidence they collected both at the raid on Wolf’s house and throughout their investigation, which started in June, suggest that Wolf had a sexual interest in boys who were in the same exact age range of his students.
Anna Adams-Sarthou, a crisis communications expert who is working with the school, said she doesn't know what exactly those photos show or why Federal investigators would include them in their court filings.
“It sounds like Wolf’s photos of SCH students were candid shots, and not anything illicit,” she said. “The FBI has not alerted the school of any disturbing content in those photos.”
In a letter sent to parents, the school’s principal, Stephen Druggan, echoed this sentiment.
“[A]s far as we know,” Druggan wrote in a letter to parents last week, the photos “were not necessarily taken without the knowledge of the students, and, most importantly, are not illicit in any way.”
Wolf, who is unmarried, lived alone with his six-month old daughter. According to FBI spokesperson Carrie Adamowski, the baby was placed with Wolf’s relatives following his arrest. The Local hasn’t been able to verify with the FBI or any other agency whether Wolf is the child’s biological parent.
A community in shock
The Local spoke with parents, other members of the school community and Wolf’s neighbors who said they were stunned by the news. Most spoke on condition of anonymity, and virtually all said that Wolf was a popular teacher.
“He was an amazing math teacher, and he was able to make math be fun,” said one alumnus who knew Wolf because he worked as a consultant for the school. “His students all liked him, he got along with pretty much everyone. I’d say he was very well-liked.”
In 2018 Wolf won an award for teaching excellence.
One parent, whose son is now studying economics at the University of Pennsylvania, said he told her that Wolf “was the best math teacher he ever had.”
Another mother, whose son was a current student of Wolf’s, said she feels anger as well as shock. And also, she said, a kind of sorrow.
“He made an extra effort with my son, and was really one of the people who helped him the most,” she said. “And it really worked. My son went from being somewhat insecure about math to really flourishing. It was amazing.”
After hearing the news, this mother said, she asked her son whether Wolf had ever done or said anything to make him feel uncomfortable, particularly during the times that Wolf had tutored him one on one. “He said no,” she said.
This mother also said the whole thing has made her worry even more about her children’s use of social media.
“I mean, really, Instagram?,” she said. “What does it say about us that something like this can happen over normal social media channels like that. It makes you realize, it’s really the wild west out there. As parents, we cannot just trust that everything's going to be alright with our kids being out there on social media. It feels really scary.”
A quiet neighbor
Most of Wolf’s neighbors said that he was quiet and kept to himself. Most only saw him when he would take his baby out for walks in her stroller, and he didn’t often speak.
Neighbor Maria Aduso, however, was an exception. Aduso, 69, called Wolf a “very good friend” and “a remarkable young man.”
“He was dedicated to his profession and it was obvious he loved doing what he did,” Aduso told the Local. “We had a good relationship. He always said hello.”
Aduso said she’d known Wolf since she moved into the Roxborough neighborhood in 2008. When she found out what happened, she said, was “totally shocked.”
“I hurt more than anything,” she said. “It’s not the Andrew I know. It’s been very hard for me.”
Aduso said she “presumed” that Wolf had adopted the baby, but never specifically asked him.
“I could see the joy in his face with that child,” she said. “He was always walking her in the stroller.”
Wolf’s other neighbors, who wouldn’t provide their names, said that they initially didn’t know why five or six unmarked police cars were parked out front of Wolf’s home in their quiet Roxborough cul-de-sac on the Thursday of his arrest.
“There were people in suits and people with shirts that said ‘FBI’ coming in and out of his house,” one neighbor said. “It was very calm and patient. There was no big rush.”
“I didn’t know what was going on until I saw it on the news later,” said another.
Not the first crisis for Springside
This isn’t the first time an instance of child endangerment has jolted the SCH community. Back in 2017, former SCH teacher Frank "Sandy" Thomson IV, who taught there from 1972 to 1998, pleaded guilty to molesting a teenage boy and “grooming” an 11-year-old boy. That same year, it was reported that another teacher, Mike Clifford, had been fired for sexual misconduct back in 1972, years before the school reported his offenses.
It wasn’t until 2015, the year before current Head of School Steve Druggan arrived, that an alumnus, who was not a victim of Clifford’s, made headway in getting the school to alert its alumni community. Initially, the school dragged its feet in alerting the community about the incident that happened more than four decades prior.
According to published reports, Druggan moved quickly to alert the school community about the earlier abuse even though "it took us a while to get the facts."
Wolf last passed a background check with SCH in Fall 2019. The school “renews all employee background checks every 60 months,” Adams-Sarthou said, “as is required by state law.”
The required clearances included the Pennsylvania Access to Criminal History completed through the Pennsylvania State Police, the Pennsylvania Child Abuse History and the FBI Criminal History Background Check.
In addition to those checks, the school also engages a background check vendor to do full background checks on all employees, which is not required by the state, Adams-Sarthou said.
“These developments continue to be very upsetting to all of us,” Druggan’s letter went on to say. “We are committed to working with the FBI throughout its investigation, and remain unwavering in our dedication to the safety and security of SCH students.”
When the Local asked Adams-Sarthou for the number of times in which Wolf chaperoned field trips, she explained that the school didn’t keep a record of chaperoning histories but “he could have been a chaperone on a number of occasions” considering he was a teacher at the school for 17 years.
Currently in Custody
If convicted, Wolf faces a maximum possible prison sentence of 40 years.
Acting United States Attorney Jennifer Arbittier Williams called Wolf’s alleged crime an act of “sexually exploiting [a] child’s naiveté.”
The alleged crime was “made even worse because of the defendant’s position as a teacher,” she added. “The convenience and accessibility of digital communications, coupled with the ease with which child sexual exploitation crimes can be concealed online, make these cases extremely difficult to investigate and prosecute. However, our office and our law enforcement partners are committed to doing this difficult work in order to hold child sexual predators accountable, especially people like this defendant who have selected careers working with children.”
The school, which has since terminated Wolf’s employment, is working with the FBI “to the extent that they reach out and ask for our help,” said Adams-Sarthou, “and the school is of course ready to support their investigation.”
The FBI’s questions, according to Adams-Sarthou, have mainly focused on the “human resources side of things” like how long Wolf has been working at the school and his history there.
“Any adult who manipulates a child into providing explicit images of themselves, as alleged here, needs to answer for it,” said Bradley S. Benavides, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the FBI's Philadelphia Division. “It's especially pressing when the adult in question works with kids every day. Our Crimes Against Children Task Force is driven to keep identifying and investigating online predators. It's critical we protect children.”
Ed. Note: This is corrected from the October 21, 2021, print version. Current Head of School Steve Druggan arrived in 2016, not 2015.
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