A Boston Children’s Hospital endocrinologist and former medical director of Phillips Academy in Andover was charged in federal court Thursday with receiving child pornography after more then 500 photographs and at least 60 DVDs were found during a search of his Andover home, federal prosecutors said.
Dr. Richard Keller drew investigators’ attention after his name, e-mail, and billing address turned up in the customer database of an overseas company that produced sexually explicit movies involving minors, prosecutors said in a court filing.
The physician worked 19 years at the private boarding high school. He resigned last year, when the school declined to renew his contract, said Phillips Academy spokesman Stephen Porter, who would not say more about the decision.
“That is a confidential personnel matter that we have been assured [by the school’s human resources department] is not related to the kinds of charges filed against him today,” he said in an interview.
As Phillips Academy’s primary physician, Keller “watched out for the health of the school,” seeing to students’ needs and serving as liaison to area hospitals, Porter said. He taught health-related classes that included sex education.
It is not clear when Keller began working at Children’s Hospital most recently. The 56-year-old was a fellow there in the mid-1980s, when he was first licensed to practice in Massachusetts. Hospital spokesman Robert Graham said in an e-mail that Keller was placed on leave when hospital officials learned of the charges Thursday morning.
“No complaints or concerns have been expressed by any patients or family members about the care Dr. Keller provided while he was at Children’s,” said Graham, who did not answer specific questions about the case or Keller’s role at the hospital.
Keller has been a part-time clinical instructor in pediatrics at Harvard Medical School since 1992. He has been placed on administrative leave from that role, a Harvard spokesman said.
In documents filed in US District Court in Boston, prosecutors said Keller had placed 19 orders between July 2009 and January 2011 from an unidentified overseas company, purchasing more than 50 movies totaling $2,695.
Those described in the affidavit all involved boys engaged in sexually explicit activities, and some were delivered to Keller at the student health center at the school. The company had been the subject of at least 20 complaints to a tip line at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Keller was arrested at his home Thursday morning, said Christina Dilorio-Sterling, a spokeswoman for US Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz. The search of his home continued into the afternoon.
Keller appeared at a hearing at John Joseph Moakley Courthouse in South Boston on Thursday afternoon. Entering the courtroom in a green T-shirt and khaki pants, he asked to speak with a woman seated in the front row, whom he called his wife. They were not allowed to talk, but the woman blew him a kiss before and after the hearing. She declined requests for comment from reporters.
An article in the academy’s student paper published in May 2011 about Keller’s departure from the school said that he was expecting a child with a teacher, Teruyo Shimazu, and that the two planned to marry. The couple moved with their son to a home near campus late last year, a neighbor said. Messages left there Thursday night were not immediately returned.
Assistant US Attorney Michael Yoon argued that Keller should be held in federal custody as he awaits trial because of the seriousness of the charges, Keller’s financial resources, and the weight of the evidence against him.
“Given the defendant’s position and access to children . . . we do believe he presents a danger to the community,” Yoon said.
Keller remains in custody and will be back in court Monday at 11:30 a.m. for a hearing on whether he will be detained until trial. If convicted, Keller could face between five and 20 years in prison and subsequent supervision, as well as a fine of up to $250,000.
Public defender Page Kelley told the judge that Keller would probably retain his own lawyer.
When Porter was asked whether parents should be concerned about the past safety of their children during Keller’s tenure at the school, the spokesman said, “The school always put the safety of its students first, and we have ... lots of layers of protection for them. I think we’ve done, historically, probably as good a job as anybody can do to protect the safety of our students.”
It was not the first time an Andover teacher has been accused of sexual crimes. English teacher David Cobb was found guilty in 1996 and served 11 years for attempting to molest a 12-year-old boy, who was not a student, and for hundreds of child pornography counts.
Head of School John Palfrey sent a note to students Thursday. “I know that the disruption associated with this news is unwelcome at the start of a new school year,” Palfrey wrote. “Please know that all members of the adult community at Phillips Academy are available to assist students in talking through this matter.”
Palfrey also sent a note to alumni asking them to contact investigators with any pertinent information. He has just begun his first year as leader of the school. Barbara Landis Chase retired after 18 years in the role.
Alumni interviewed Thursday said Keller was a good teacher. Keller led a health and wellness seminar, required for all sophomores, that focused on healthy lifestyle habits, eating disorders, puberty, mental health, and sex education.
“He struck me as profoundly normal,” said Murphy Temple, who graduated in 2008 and took the seminar.
Keller sometimes served as a “complement house counselor,” a fill-in guidance counselor for students living on campus. Temple said she didn’t see him often, but when she did, he was genial and helpful, the same as all teachers and administrators who served in that role.
“It was never creepy or inappropriate,” Temple said. “He was interacting with students in a way that seemed very typical.”
Keller also taught a senior seminar on human physiology, according to a 2008 graduate who enrolled in the class but asked not to be named out of fear of being associated with the case.
The class was designed to pique interest among students considering medical school. Keller assigned students to read articles from medical journals and write papers focusing on a specific disease.
“He was a great teacher, and he kept things very professional,” the student said. “He didn’t have to teach that course, but he took time out of his other duties to do it.”
Keller served as a mentor to some students and occasionally invited pupils to his house for dinner, but that practice was “an incredibly common thing” that was encouraged by administrators, the student said.
The state Board of Registration in Medicine has received no previous complaints about Keller, spokesman Russell Aims said. The board could open a case as a result of the criminal investigation.