Composer sentenced to 15 years for creating and sending child pornography

Fernando Rivas, 61, of Ladson was sentenced to 15 years in prison after pleading guilty in December to two counts involving the creation and distribution of child pornography. (Provided)

For years, Fernando Rivas was living a double life.

In one, the Cuban immigrant graduated from the Juilliard School of Music, created a family and built a successful career in the United States as a composer, creating music for “Sesame Street” and Disney. He appeared to be living the American dream.

In another, secret existence, Rivas wrestled with inner demons, narrating and depicting his “twisted fictional fantasies” in stories and photos he posted on the Internet.

“I was playing a role, creating a bogeyman to which I projected my dark fantasies,” he said in a federal courtroom in Charleston Tuesday, when he described his struggles as a sexual deviant.

At the end of that hearing, Rivas, who most recently lived in Ladson, was sentenced to 15 years in prison. He pleaded guilty last year to two counts of charges involving creating and sending child pornography.

In a statement he read to District Judge Patrick Duffy, Rivas apologized for his actions and for contributing to the “rivers of poison in cyberspace.”

Rivas would post manipulated photos in which children were depicted in violent and sexual positions, prosecutors said.

He also photographed and videotaped a 4-year-old girl, naked and restrained, according to prosecutors.

During the four-hour sentencing hearing, Rivas told Duffy that throughout his life he has coped with his emotional struggles through gratification of the perverse.

“It was an endless loop that played in my head,” he said. “I tried to extricate myself from it, but I’d return to it for escape.”

William Burke, a Summerville-based forensic psychologist who specializes in the treatment of sex offenders, evaluated and treated Rivas.

Burke testified that Rivas’ exposure to violence during the Cuban Revolution and abuse by his mother were the root causes of his condition. His mother would threaten to castrate him on occasion, Burke said.

“It was a twisted coping mechanism,” Rivas said in court. “I had been using that strategy since I was a child.”

Investigators found 2,300 images and 12 videos of child pornography in Rivas’ possession. Some of these images showed actual children having sex with adults, and Rivas received these images from the Internet, according to prosecutors. He manipulated other images through photo editing, prosecutors said.

He also produced his own child pornography using a 4-year-old female victim, prosecutors said. In some of the photos, Rivas bound the child with black Velcro straps, according to prosecutors.

Rivas was caught when a defendant in a separate child pornography case in New Jersey pointed authorities to Rivas. The New Jersey defendant was facing charges for attempting to buy a child prostitute from a drug addict, according to prosecutors.

The defendant, who has since been convicted in New Jersey, told authorities Rivas and he would exchange child pornography online, prosecutors said.

Investigators arrested Rivas in April 2011. That’s when he confessed to owning, sending and producing child pornography, according to prosecutors. He pleaded guilty in December.

He was sentenced to the minimum-mandatory sentence for the charges. His attorney, David McCann, had asked for less time, citing Rivas’ cooperation and previous clean record. But Duffy said he needed to send a message of deterrence, and place Rivas behind bars for an extended period.

“The case is not like any other I’ve ever had in 19 years on the bench,” said Duffy, who could have sentenced Rivas to up to 50 years behind bars.

Rivas, 61, who is not eligible for parole, would be 76-years-old when he gets out of prison. During the hearing, Rivas called his arrest a blessing.

The composer, who also started and ran a jazz program for students at Porter-Gaud School from 2002-2009, was living a lie, he said.

“It’s not uncommon for people to make achievements and still have the other side to them that’s very dark,” Burke said.

Rivas said he hopes with further treatment to completely overcome that dark side and heal what he called a destructive addiction.

Reach Natalie Caula at 937-5594 or