A former Portland ed tech was sentenced to 22 years in federal prison Monday for abusing a 6-year-old student at Ocean Avenue Elementary School and recording it.

Benjamin Conroy, 34, pleaded guilty in August to one count of sexually exploiting a child. On Monday, U.S. District Judge Nancy Torresen ruled that Conroy will spend 15 years under supervision after his release and recommended he be sent to a federal prison with sex-offender treatment options.

Benjamin Conroy in a Zoom court appearance Oct. 15

Benjamin Conroy, an education technician who worked at Ocean Avenue Elementary School in Portland, appears in court via Zoom in October 2021. Image from court video

“I take full responsibility for my actions,” Conroy told Torresen on Monday, sitting next to his public defense attorney in the Portland courtroom and wearing a dark blue uniform from Two Bridges Regional Jail, where he has been held in federal custody.

“I am unable to explain my conduct. I don’t know if there is an explanation for it. … I’ve hurt a child, and I am tortured by the harm I’ve caused.”

Conroy worked with the Portland Public Schools’ Beach program for high-needs students with autism or other neurodevelopmental disorders, developmental delays and high behavioral needs that often require one-on-one attention.

He was arrested in October 2021 after a man he had been messaging on the dating app Grindr reported that he had received “several disturbing images and messages” from Conroy, who was only known to police at the time by his screenname, “Str8 Vers Anon.” The messages included several images of a man sexually abusing a child, as well as conversations about exposing himself to women and girls in a public park.


Three days later, a woman reported she was assaulted by a man on a park bench at Portland’s Western Prom.

A group of witnesses helped detain the man until police arrived. Investigators identified him as Conroy and later linked him to the Grindr account. Conroy initially disputed being responsible for the pictures of a minor. He was originally facing multiple charges in state court before federal charges were levied.

Torresen described Conroy’s conduct Monday morning in explicit detail as his family sat in the back of the room. Some grew emotional as the judge spoke.

“Your job was to assist special needs students. Instead of assisting, you took a nonverbal, autistic 6-year-old girl, and you exposed yourself to her,” Torresen said. “The conduct was extremely disturbing.”

The student’s mother was not in the courtroom Monday, but a victim witness advocate for the court read a series of statements on her behalf describing the family’s anger, guilt, stress and depression.

“I feel scared at night when my daughter is not here,” the statement read. “My whole family feels this.”


She said her daughter is scared of physical touch and had to stay home for a year.

Conroy’s attorney, David Beneman, said in court that his client grew up in a high-achieving, middle-class home where he and his siblings played sports in school.

Beneman and Assistant U.S. Attorney Sheila Sawyer disagreed on what role Conroy’s mental health history played in the abuse. Beneman said it happened during an untreated period of bipolar mania, following decades of distrust of doctors who had misdiagnosed and mistreated other injuries in Conroy’s past.

“This isn’t the conduct of what we normally see of a pedophile,” Beneman said, adding that in Conroy’s eight years as a special ed tech, there was no record of him mistreating children or sexual offenses. “This is the conduct of someone who is out of control.”

Conroy was initially diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2019. A year earlier he was in a car crash that left him with a concussion and was coming out of an eight-year engagement, according to court records.

In May 2022, more than six months after Conroy’s arrest, Beneman said a psychiatrist who evaluated Conroy believed that he did not have “the most efficacious treatment” and “was likely symptomatic at the time he was accused of engaging in crimes,” the evaluation stated.


In letters to Torresen, his mother, aunt and siblings wrote that the charges shocked them.

“I’ve had one reoccurring response: nothing about this makes sense,” one aunt wrote in response to Conroy’s charges. “Nothing about this is consistent with the young man I’ve known.”

Sawyer described the bipolar defense as “smoke and mirrors.”

“It is insane to believe, let alone argue, that someone with bipolar disease makes them more likely to molest a child,” Sawyer said.

Conroy graduated from the University of Maine in Orono in 2012. He had been working in schools as an education technician since 2014 after obtaining his teaching certificate that year.

He is one of two recent former ed techs for Portland schools to face criminal charges. Travis McCutcheon, an ed tech at Lyseth Elementary School in 2018 and a teacher for the Breathe program at Lyman Moore Middle School until February, was charged last week with one count of possessing and one count of soliciting child pornography.

Conroy is also mentioned, but is not a defendant, in a civil lawsuit filed by former special education teacher Eric Poulin, who alleges that Portland Public Schools fired him for trying to speak out about classroom staffing shortages before and after Conroy’s arrest. The school district said its decision to not renew Poulin’s contract was based on his job performance.

Poulin, who worked in the same special education program as Conroy, says that he repeatedly reached out to district leadership regarding staffing shortages, and health and safety risks to students.

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