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Former Harvard Track Coach Pleads Guilty to Possession of Child Pornography

By Juliet E. Isselbacher, Crimson Staff Writer

Former Harvard track coach Walter W. Johnson ’71 pled guilty Monday to possession of child pornography, the United States Attorney’s office announced Tuesday.

Johnson served as a track and field coach for Harvard’s men’s and women’s teams from 1982 to 2006. During his time as an undergraduate at Harvard, he played on the football team his junior and senior years and captained the men’s track team.

After more than 20 years at Harvard, Johnson departed his coaching position to take up roles as an assistant track coach and a special education teaching assistant at Wellesley High School and Wellesley Middle School.

Johnson was arrested and charged with possession and distribution of child pornography in April 2017. Federal agents began investigating Johnson in January of that year based on allegations that Johnson was trading child pornography on Craigslist. Over the course of their search, federal agents traced explicit Craiglist messages back to email accounts belonging to Johnson.

The investigation culminated in an April 2017 search of his Framingham, Mass. home, where federal agents found sexually explicit images and videos on Johnson’s electronic devices. During the search of this home, Johnson confirmed he was the user of the email accounts and that he had used Craigslist advertisements to exchange explicit messages with other individuals, primarily men. Johnson was arrested on scene and then indicted by a federal grand jury, according to the press release.

The charge of possession of child pornography carries a minimum five year sentence that can extend up to 20 years and up to a lifetime of supervised release. The charge could also yield Johnson an additional fine of up to $250,000.

Johnson’s guilty plea was announced Tuesday by U.S. Attorney Andrew E. Lelling and Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Peter C. Fitzhugh. The Internet Crimes Against Children task forces from Massachusetts and Rhode Island and the Framingham Police Department provided assistance in investigating Johnson’s case, according to the press release.

Johnson’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for September 10.

Johnson’s lawyer Syrie D. Fried declined to comment for this story.

—Staff writer Juliet E. Isselbacher can be reached at juliet.isselbacher@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @julietissel.

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Former Track Coach Charged with Child Pornography Distribution