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Charlottesville socialite pleads guilty to child sex crimes

The Charlottesville socialite and mother of two accused of child sex crimes has accepted a plea deal.

Eleanor Hunton Hoppe, the 46-year-old scion of the family that launched Richmond’s largest law firm and ex-wife of a prominent federal judge, has pleaded guilty to distributing child pornography and agreed to serve 135 months behind bars.

"That’s basically a real decade in prison," Charlottesville legal analyst David Heilberg told The Daily Progress. "That was the sentence they were angling for, and they accomplished it with one charge."

The agreement was announced Wednesday by several officials, including U.S. Attorney Matthew M. Graves of the District of Columbia. Earlier this month, Graves issued an ultimatum to Hoppe, demanding that she take a plea or risk a life sentence by going to trial. While that plea drops two other charges — attempted interstate sexual coercion and sexual enticement of a child — Heilberg downplayed the impact of reducing the charges from three to one.

"Dropping charges seems like window dressing because the government didn’t budge on the sentence they were pursuing," he said. "The other matters were considered relevant conduct to justify the length of time."

Initially professing innocence, Hoppe cast herself as something of a savior to a little girl on the verge of getting molested by her father. But after she was arrested at a Warrenton motel a little over a year ago, authorities revealed a trove of text messages that seemed to show her relishing the prospect of helping a father she met online sexually abuse his 8-year-old little girl. That Hoppe was allegedly found in the motel parking lot with personal lubricant and a promised "big girl robe" undercut her claims.

There was no child as it turned out, only an FBI special agent posing as a perverted dad who communicated with Hoppe on an encrypted app after they met on a fetish website to discuss "taboo parenting."

Since her March 2023 arrest, Hoppe has been held without bail at the Correctional Treatment Facility, a privately run jail overseen by the District of Columbia Department of Corrections. She claimed at one point that she was not receiving proper medications, an allegation that raised the question of whether she might urge a mental or physical health defense.

Hoppe’s past as the former wife of a federal magistrate judge who hears cases in Charlottesville never seemed to play a role in her prosecution. But her other family’s legal ties did impact the case.

In late January, Graves accused Eleanor Hoppe of trying to enlist both her father, Eppa Hunton V, and her brother, Eppa Hunton VI, of using their law licenses to evade the routine recording of jailhouse phone calls. While neither man is part of the powerhouse Richmond law firm bearing the family name, Hunton Andrews Kurth, each is a member in good standing with the Virginia State Bar.

Eleanor and Joel Hoppe were divorced in 2021. Judge Joel Hoppe won custody of their two school-age daughters last year. While she was well known in Charlottesville circles, Eleanor Hoppe’s home address was technically in neighboring Albemarle County. In addition to having worked as an event planner, including a stint at the University of Virginia, she also claimed to have once worked as a victim-witness advocate in the Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office. At the time of her arrest, she was a paralegal for divorce cases at the Charlottesville law firm of Tucker Griffin Barnes.

Heilberg said that federal prison sentences are usually reduced about 15% for good behavior. That math suggests that, if Hoppe behaves and gets credit for time served, she could be freed in the autumn of 2032. Her plea deal also calls for 10 years of post-prison supervision and demands she register as a sex offender.

The Wednesday statement announcing the deal said Graves was assisted in his prosecution by assistant U.S. attorneys Caroline Burrell and Rachel Forman. Other names attached to the announcement include FBI special agent in charge David J. Scott with the bureau’s Washington field office and Chief Pamela A. Smith of the Metropolitan Police Department.

Despite her family’s extensive legal pedigree, Hoppe was represented by the Federal Public Defender’s Office for the District of Columbia.

A court order filed Wednesday calls for a presentence report and sets the sentencing hearing for Sept. 23.

In a statement of offense released Wednesday afternoon, the prosecutors revealed that they found even more disturbing material when they seized Eleanor Hoppe’s phone at the time of her arrest. They claim to have found additional encrypted conversations discussing "grooming" and "sexually abusing" children. They claim that in addition to the three images for which Hoppe was prosecuted, authorities found seven videos and 28 other images depicting the sexual abuse of children, "including material showing the sexual abuse of toddlers and prepubescent children, as well as children being abused while bound and gagged."


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