San José, Costa Rica, since 1956
Expat Crime

Suspected child molester passed background check at American school in Nicaragua

A December 2013 photo of William James Vahey, a U.S. citizen suspected of sexually abusing at least 90 boys starting in 2008. Vahey committed suicide in March.

(Courtesy FBI)

The American Nicaraguan School, where a suspected U.S. serial child molester taught for almost a year, denied that any of its students were among the predator’s 90 victims, but the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation would not confirm the school’s claim as the investigation into the abuse continues.

The suspect, William James Vahey, now deceased, passed a background check carried out by the school despite pleading guilty to a charge of child molestation in California in 1970.

Vahey, 64, was suspected of molesting at least 90 boys between 2008 and 2014, based on photos found on the suspect’s flash drive. Vahey committed suicide in Minnesota on March 21 after the ANS fired him and the FBI requested a search warrant of the electronic device from the Southern District Court of Texas in Houston.

The ANS board of directors contends that the photos found on the device were taken before Vahey’s time in Nicaragua. ANS employed Vahey from Aug. 12, 2013 until the school fired him on March 11, 2014, following the discovery of the flash drive.

According to an unsealed affidavit The Tico Times received, a cleaning woman allegedly stole several items from Vahey’s home in Nicaragua in November 2013, including the jump drive.

ANS, who employed Vahey’s maid, fired her following the accusation. She returned to the school on March 11, 2014 to admit that she had taken the drive and viewed some of its contents. She said she came to the school because of what she saw.

An ANS employee made a cursory view of the material on the drive, which included folders named “Costa Rica Trip,” and “Panama Trip,” among others. One folder named “Spring 2013” included sexually explicit photos.

Vahey traveled to Costa Rica several times between 2004 and 2011, according to the Immigration Administration. His last trip to Costa Rica was between April 9-19, 2011, when he was employed by the Southbank International School in London, United Kingdom. He worked there from 2009 to 2013.

ANS said that none of the photos on the thumb drive had timestamps that coincided with Vahey’s period of employment at the school.

“We feel fortunate that Mr. Vahey did not take part in any extracurricular trips, inside or outside of Nicaragua, during the time that he worked for the school,” the board’s statement said.

FBI Special Agent Shauna Dunlap told The Tico Times that the FBI could not yet rule out if there were victims during Vahey’s time in Nicaragua, and the investigation remains open while new evidence is reviewed.

The ANS employee informed the Regional Security Office of the U.S. Embassy in Managua, which contacted the FBI.

Vahey left Nicaragua for the United States on March 12.

The school said that it conducted “the usual relevant verifications prior to hiring professor Vahey, checking his references with previous employers, among other documents, and requesting the most up-to-date mandatory police record, which did not reflect any criminal records.”

Vahey pled guilty to one count of child molestation on Jan. 22, 1970 in Sacramento, California, and was sentenced to 90 days in jail and five years’ probation.

Vahey was required to register in the State of California Sex Offender Registry for the rest of his life but had not renewed his registration since 1970.

Nicaragua and Costa Rica require foreign workers – including teachers – to present a certified copy of their police record from their country of origin or their previous legal residence during the last three years as part of their visa application.

Dunlap said that if Vahey provided a criminal record check from his previous residence outside the United States, it was unlikely that the 1970 charge would appear.

Some ANS employees were critical of the school’s response and assertion that none of its students were involved.

“Note that the director said she didn’t look at all the pictures, so how would she know if it included Nicaraguan children. Even if it is true that the photos were not of Nicaraguan children, it is still illegal to have child pornography in Nicaragua and he was in the photos so totally incriminated,” an unsigned letter by three current employees of the school read, published by The Nicaragua Dispatch.

The employees go on to criticize the school’s decision not to alert local authorities, instead opting to contact the U.S. Embassy in Managua. The letter continued that Vahey was allowed to go home, suggesting that he might have destroyed more evidence, and that an ANS van drove Vahey to the airport the next day to leave Nicaragua.

The authors claim that the school sent a letter to faculty saying that Vahey would not return “due to health issues.”

In its statement, the school said that it alerted students, parents and faculty about the case in a “timely and responsible manner.”

“The American Nicaraguan School wishes to express sympathy for the possible victims of sexual abuse that might have occurred during the educational career of professor Vahey for over 40 years, in nine different schools and countries,” the statement concluded.

The FBI’s Office of Victim Assistance asks anyone with information about the suspect to come forward. Anyone who believes he has been abused should complete a Victim Assistance confidential questionnaire, or send a confidential email to:

Victims can also contact a local FBI office or the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

Contact Zach Dyer at

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Dan Murray

It is important to perform a proper background check on adults who will be working with children.
However only 4% of Child Sexual Abusers have a criminal record that will show up on a criminal background check,
The CDC has developed Preventing Child Sexual Abuse Within Youth-serving Organizations: Getting Started on Policies and Procedures to assist youth-serving organizations as they begin to adopt prevention strategies for child sexual abuse.
This along with psychological tests such as The Diana Screen (developed by Dr. Gene G. Abel) can reduce the risk of placing men and women who present sexual risks to children and teenagers into positions of trust.

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