Crime and Courts

East County driving instructor accused of molesting students pleads guilty

Richard Joseph Banks was arrested on suspicion of sexually abusing female students during lessons and recording his students' private areas with hidden cameras, San Diego police said

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An Escondido man arrested earlier this year on allegations of molesting and secretly filming multiple female students while he was working as a driving instructor pleaded guilty Tuesday to child molestation and possession of child pornography.

Richard Joseph Banks, 51, who at the time of the offenses was an instructor with El Cajon-based American Driving School, was arrested in January on suspicion of sexually abusing female students during driving lessons, as well as "using secret cameras hidden in the instructional car to record his students' private areas," according to the San Diego Police Department.

Earlier this year, prosecutors charged him with nearly three dozen counts in connection with 11 victims, most of whom were underage.

Prosecutors said the crimes occurred between April and November of last year.

On Tuesday, Banks pleaded guilty to 11 counts, including unlawful possession of sexual images of a child under the age of 18, sexual battery, annoying or molesting a child under the age of 18, and lewd and lascivious acts on a 14- or 15-year-old.

He's expected to be sentenced later this year to a prison term of between 32 months and five years, according to the San Diego County District Attorney's Office.

Richard Banks if facing more than two dozen counts, which include multiple felonies. NBC 7's Kelvin Henry was at the Vista courthouse.

Around the time of Banks' arrest, American Driving School's owner, Daniel Tackett, said in a statement that Banks passed a background check before he was hired. Prosecutors said Banks did not have any prior criminal history in San Diego County.

Tackett said, "We were shocked by the allegations against Joe. His actions are his alone, and they violate the trust and policies of our company and those of the DMV regarding inappropriate behavior. He hasn't taught any students after SDPD notified us of their investigation. We've always encouraged parents to ride on the lessons for observation of our teaching methods."

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