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March 20, 2008

Neurology prof jailed in sex sting

Pitt neurology faculty member R. Wesley Farris II remains jailed following his arrest in a sex sting in which he is charged with arranging to meet a child for sex through phone calls with an undercover agent posing as the uncle of a 10-year-old girl.

According to the complaint filed in federal court in Pittsburgh, Farris, 38, of Fox Chapel, is charged with coercion or enticement of a minor to engage in prostitution or other illegal sexual activity. The charge stems from Farris’s use of a cell phone to arrange for the “uncle” to bring the girl to meet him for sex at an Oakland hotel.

U.S. Attorney’s office spokesperson Margaret Philbin said the felony charge carries a penalty of 10 years to life in prison, a $250,000 fine or both.

According to the complaint, Farris phoned the agent March 4 and expressed his desire to have sexual intercourse and receive oral sex from the child. The complaint states that the two agreed on a price of $700 plus $50 to cover gas for transportation to the hotel and that the “uncle” would provide Farris with a Hannah Montana gift for Farris to give to the girl. According to the complaint, the following day the men arranged by phone to meet later in Pittsburgh.

Farris was arrested March 5 outside the Quality Inn University Center when he approached the undercover agent’s vehicle to look at the child. In reality, there was no child. A female law enforcement agent was stationed in the vehicle.

According to the complaint, in the hotel room Farris had rented with a personal credit card, agents found $760 in $20 bills along with Farris’s wallet, identification documents, driver’s license and wedding ring.

Court documents state that a federal agent testified at a March 10 detention hearing that a confidential informant had first been approached by Farris about providing a child for sex approximately seven weeks earlier. According to the document, “Farris had said that he would pay $1,000-$2,000 for sex with a child, more money for a younger child. The informant had transacted business with Farris for over a year through a massage parlor” where Farris was a client.

Two of Farris’s children were scheduled for interviews March 10 at Mercy Hospital, according to the documents, which state that Farris’s wife brought the children to the hospital, was interviewed herself, “then refused to go forward with the forensic interviews when one of the children experienced some separation anxiety at being interviewed alone.”

U.S. Magistrate Judge Amy Reynolds Hay initially ordered Farris, who has no prior record, released on $50,000 bond, but federal prosecutors requested a stay. Hay agreed to allow psychologist Mark King to visit Farris in jail to perform a psychiatric evaluation.

U.S. District Judge David Stewart Cercone, to whom the case has been assigned, on March 12 ordered Farris to remain jailed until further order of court. Farris’s attorney, Paul Boas, was given until March 24 to file a response.

Boas did not return a call from the University Times seeking comment.

Frank Raczkiewicz, acting director of UPMC Media Relations, which provides information on Pitt’s Schools of the Health Sciences, said in a prepared statement March 6, “We can confirm that he is an employee and that an inquiry has been initiated into the matter.”

Raczkiewicz declined to provide additional details on the inquiry process or on Farris’s University affiliations.

John Fedele, Pitt associate director of News, said there is no University policy that applies when an employee is charged with a crime, adding that such cases are handled on an individual basis. If any disciplinary action is inititated, Fedele said, it would be taken by an employee’s supervisors in consultation with Human Resources and the University’s general counsel.

Farris has been a member of the Pitt faculty since 2006, according to his web page. That web page, which had been linked to the neurology department home page, was removed early this week. Farris’s name also has been removed from the neurology site’s list of faculty members.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

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