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US Jewish school teacher charged for 25 sex crimes including rape, child pornography

Baltimore science instructor William Zev Steen arrested for multiple alleged crimes dating back as far as 2008; also led company installing filtration software on ‘kosher’ phones

Luke Tress is an editor and a reporter in New York for The Times of Israel.

William Zev Steen. (Screenshot/YouTube, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
William Zev Steen. (Screenshot/YouTube, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

A teacher at a Jewish school in Baltimore, Maryland has been charged with a slew of sex crimes including rape, assault and possessing and distributing child pornography.

After his arrest, William Zev Steen was fired from his position as a high school science teacher at Bnos Yisroel of Baltimore, where at least one of his children had also studied.

Steen, 44, was also removed from his position as the director of a firm that installed filtration software on phones for observant Jews.

Law enforcement picked up on Steen while investigating a child pornography filesharing network in July. They tracked an IP address involved in the network to Steen’s home address and email account.

Police executed a search warrant at Steen’s home on November 3 and interviewed him, according to charging documents.

He admitted to using a filesharing network and acknowledged a Macbook connected to illegal files belonged to him. Officers located other evidence during the search, including a micro SD memory card containing child pornography that was in a bag with his work ID.

The files had been deleted from the SD card, but investigators were able to retrieve them. It wasn’t clear whether Steen used the card at work and there were no other known connections to the school or his work.

Steen was charged with 15 counts related to child pornography on November 5 and released on bond.

Last week, he was hit with 10 more charges including rape, sexual abuse of a minor, assault and child abuse, due to additional evidence recovered in the search. Those alleged incidents took place in 2008, according to the charging documents.

Steen remains in custody and is scheduled for his first trial appearance next month.

Bnos Yisroel, an all-girls school, informed parents and staff of the case in two emails after being notified by Baltimore City Police. The school said it had “immediately terminated” Steen’s employment, reached out to legal and mental health professionals for guidance and was working with police.

A social worker spoke with students and the school scheduled a meeting with parents to address the situation.

Steen was also the director of Technology Awareness Group (TAG) Baltimore, a nonprofit that supports religious families with “kosher” phones that have restricted internet access, including by installing filtration software.

TAG Baltimore announced that Steen was “no longer associated” with the firm, without providing a reason.

Steen said in a TAG Baltimore fundraising video released in June 2020 that the office had fielded over 600 requests since the pandemic started months earlier.

“TAG Baltimore has been working overtime to help keep more families safe than ever before,” he said.

The Baltimore firm is part of TAG’s international network, which includes offices across the US, in Israel and in other countries.

TAG Baltimore did not respond to a request for comment and the Baltimore Police Department said it could not discuss a pending case.

Mark Ostrowski, the head of engineering at the Check Point cybersecurity company, said in a case like Steen’s he would have had complete access to customers’ devices while installing software for them and could have installed remote access control software that would have given him continued access.

Ostrowski stressed that he did not know the specifics of the Steen case and could not make definitive comments on the details.

“Once you give access to a device to an individual, you’re really giving up the key to the front door of your house. Once they’re in your house they can go into your closets, they can go into your kitchen, they can go into your cabinets,” he said.

“You put trust in organizations to help you get through cyber issues, or in this particular case installing that filtration software, and if that person violates your trust that’s a big problem because you’re basically giving the key to the house to that individual,” he said.

Android devices are the most susceptible to malware, followed by iPhones, while flip phones are generally not sophisticated enough for malicious software, Ostrowski said.

He recommended anyone with concerns about their devices should factory reset their phone, or at least inventory all the applications that are installed.

Za’akah, a New York-based advocacy group for sexual assault survivors in the Orthodox Jewish community, first publicized details of Steen’s case.

According to Steen’s LinkedIn profile, he had worked at Bnos Yisroel for five years and at TAG for four years, and also operated a cybersecurity firm called MirageID. He said he had founded several technology startups before taking up those positions.

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