Ex-HCC professor gets 11½ years in prison in child porn case

Former math professor Howard Vorder Bruegge III admitted to downloading and distributing child pornography.
Former Hillsborough Community College math professor Howard Joseph Vorder Bruegge III, 36, will spend 11½ years in federal prison for possessing and distributing child pornography. -  |  Pinellas County Sheriff's Office
Former Hillsborough Community College math professor Howard Joseph Vorder Bruegge III, 36, will spend 11½ years in federal prison for possessing and distributing child pornography. - | Pinellas County Sheriff's Office
Published November 22
Updated November 22

TAMPA — He was bullied as a child. He felt unwanted and abandoned when his father left his family. Though he excelled academically and became a respected math professor at Hillsborough Community College, he remained plagued by depression and anxiety. He even developed a substance abuse problem.

It was amid these circumstances, Howard Joseph Vorder Bruegge III’s defense attorney told the court, that his client started to look at child pornography. When the professor caught the attention of federal agents last year, they uncovered a collection of more than 200 pictures and 47 videos.

On Friday, Vorder Bruegge, 36, was sentenced to spend 11½ years in federal prison. That will be followed by a 20-year term of supervised release, during which he will face strict restrictions on where he can live and go. He will also not be allowed to use computers without the permission of his probation officer.

The sentence was below what federal prosecutors had sought, but still exceeded than the five-year minimum sentence he faced.

“If I thought that you had committed acts on children, without the blink of an eye, I would give you 40 years,” U.S. District Judge William Jung told the defendant.

The judge also noted there was no evidence Vorder Bruegge was ever harmed as a child.

Peter Bursten, a psychologist hired by the defense to examine the defendant, said his crimes were driven by fantasy, that he would be amenable to probation and was at low risk of re-offending.

Vorder Bruegge admitted in a plea agreement to downloading child pornography, some of which depicted babies and toddlers being sexually abused, and distributing it to other people. He worked for more than a decade as a math professor at Hillsborough Community College. He resigned after his October 2018 arrest.

The previous summer, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police received information about child pornography being traded through an online messaging application. They identified an account with the screen name “JoeBlow73,” which had sent images of children being sexually abused. The account was linked to Vorder Bruegge, and the information was sent to a U.S. agency, Homeland Security Investigations.

Homeland Security agents later searched Vorder Bruegge’s home and cell phone. They ultimately found more than 200 photos and 47 videos of child pornography, some of which depicted babies and toddlers being sexually abused.

The investigation revealed Vorder Bruegge used peepholes in HCC bathrooms to record videos on his cell phone of students while they were using the restroom stalls, prosecutors said. He had at least four such videos saved on his phone, the government said, which he later uploaded to a website that hosts voyeur content.

Vorder Bruegge signed a plea agreement in March, admitting to charges of possession and distribution of child pornography.

Defense attorney Mark O’Brien emphasized that the former professor accepts responsibility for his crimes, and acknowledges that his conduct was wrong.

“He knew he had a problem but he did not know how to solve it,” O’Brien wrote. “In a very real way, being arrested may have saved (his) life.”

The judge heard from his sister, who called him “Joe," and two friends, who asked for a second chance.

Vorder Bruegge spoke briefly in court. He apologized for his actions, and accepted the price that he must pay.

He also gave the judge a three-page, handwritten statement apologizing to his family members, who he said were traumatized by his actions.

“I also understand that every tap on my phone re-victimized the vulnerable children in those files,” he wrote. “And I regret from the deepest reaches of my being that I contributed to their exploitation and suffering.”

Advertisement