Steven J. Devlin, the college administrator caught by police in an Internet sex sting last summer, was sentenced yesterday to three to six years in prison.

Devlin, 51, who had been a vice provost at Lehigh University until his arrest, pleaded guilty in May to soliciting sex through the Internet from a woman and her two young daughters. The woman turned out to be a police detective and the daughters were fictional.

Devlin's lawyer portrayed him as a man with an Internet addiction who visited chat rooms obsessively. His wife told the court that their relationship was stronger than ever. His neighbors in Bryn Mawr said they were afraid to let their children play outside and asked the court to put him away, which is what Delaware County Court Judge Patricia H. Jenkins did.

Devlin was arrested in July 2007 after he sought sex in a chat room from someone he believed was a 32-year-old woman with daughters ages 7 and 9, according to court documents.

In May 2007, using the AOL screen name Phillyguy05, Devlin started an online relationship with the detective. He told his new online acquaintance that he and his wife had grown up in an "open-minded" lifestyle and were "preparing" his young daughters.

During several online conversations, Devlin suggested meeting and detailed explicit sexual activity that would occur. He asked that the girls be included.

He had similar exchanges with another detective, who was posing online as the mother of 11- and 14-year-old girls.

Police arrested Devlin when he went to a planned meeting spot in Morton. He pleaded guilty to a criminal attempt to commit involuntary deviant sexual intercourse.

Devlin's lawyer, Arthur T. Donato, told the court yesterday that psychologists said Devlin's Internet addiction was triggered by the stress of a rare life-threatening illness. Donato declined after the hearing to identify the illness.

Devlin's wife, Bonnie, said that therapy since her husband's arrest had strengthened their 28-year marriage, but that they faced a debt of $125,000 from medical and legal bills as a result of his "hidden addiction."

She said she had seen her husband acknowledge his problems and take responsibility for them. "He has regained his moral compass," she said.

She was one of about 16 relatives and friends to address the court on Devlin's behalf.

Devlin cried as he told the court, reading from a statement, that he had thought many times of taking his own life, and he talked of how he pushed away friends and family, many of whom came to support him in court.

"My arrest saved my life," Devlin said. "I am grateful to the police for saving me. Without intervention, I would be dead."

Others in the courtroom saw Devlin differently.

Four of Devlin's Bryn Mawr neighbors told of the impact on their families of living close to an accused sex offender. They said they no longer felt comfortable letting their children play outside in the cul-de-sac near Devlin's home.

"Send him away for as long as you can," neighbor Slade McLaughlin told Jenkins.

Donato said court psychologists had determined that his client was not sexually attracted to or interested in children.

Devlin said he regularly attended meetings of Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, which uses a 12-step program for recovery.

He began working for Lehigh in March 2003. Before that, he worked for the University of Pennsylvania in several positions. He now works for a nonprofit company in Havertown, the Center for Outcome Analysis, which focuses on services for people with disabilities.

In addition to his prison sentence, Devlin must register as a sex offender for 10 years under Megan's Law and provide a DNA sample to police.

Devlin, who has been on electronic home monitoring, was ordered to report to the Delaware County prison on Oct. 27.

Contact staff writer Mari A. Schaefer at 610-892-9149 or