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Former Bemidji Middle School assistant principal may have as many as 50 victims in child porn case

ST. PAUL -- The former Bemidji Middle School assistant principal accused of having sexual conversations with -- and who received sexual photos of -- children may have as many as 50 victims, according to federal court documents.

Brandon Mark Bjerknes, 34, is charged in state district court with four counts of engaging in electronic communication relating to or describing sexual conduct with a child. On May 31, he was charged in federal court with two counts of production of child pornography, one count of distribution of child pornography and one count of attempted coercion and enticement of a minor.

Bjerknes was taken into federal custody May 30 and was being held in the Sherburne County Jail. He was released Monday after posting a $25,000 bond.

According to a federal criminal complaint, Bjerknes used a decoy social media account to entice or coerce children as young as 12 into sending him sexually explicit photographs. While posing as a teenage boy, Bjerknes allegedly dared one minor to send him multiple sexual pictures of herself and watch a “porno clip” he sent her.

The complaint outlines the experiences of three different victims, though Beltrami County prosecutors say there are likely more. Bjerknes is accused of communicating with at least one 13-year-old girl as early as February 2015.

The former assistant principal allegedly convinced the child to send him a photograph of her genitals, which he in turn sent to a minor male.

According to the complaint, Bjerknes gave the children specific instructions related to the pictures he requested. He is accused of sending the children pictures of his own genitals, and of preserving the photos they send him via Snapchat with a second iPhone.

The complaint states that Bjerknes used his work iPhone for some of the communications. Some of the victims were Bemidji Middle School students, according to the documents.

According to a local criminal complaint, Bjerknes’ alleged crimes came to the attention of law enforcement in the fall of 2016 when the Beltrami County Sheriff’s Office started receiving complaints from parents of adolescent girls who attended the middle school. The girls’ parents found “disturbing” messages on their children's cell phones, the complaint said.

The messages were from the Facebook account of someone using the name “Brett Larson,” who claimed to be a student in Duluth, documents said. In January, investigators learned that the IP address associated with the Facebook account was assigned to Bjerknes.

Investigators searched Bjerknes’ home on March 20 and seized his cell phone, according to a criminal complaint. Law enforcement then allegedly found Snapchat conversations between the username “BrettLarson 6969” and two different children, which included photos and descriptions of sexual conduct.

He pleaded not guilty to two of the local charges, but has not entered a plea on the other two. Court documents say the Beltrami County Attorney’s Office expects to file additional charges. The federal charges will not impact local ones.

Bjerknes must abide by certain conditions of release. He must not possess a firearm, use alcohol, possess or use a computer or have unsupervised contact with minors. He is required to remain in his home 24 hours per day.

Bjerknes’ tenure at Bemidji Area Schools began in 2005, when he was hired as a second grade teacher at Northern Elementary School. He moved to fifth grade there in 2009 and then to Bemidji Middle School in 2012. He was named the school’s assistant principal in 2014.

School district staff said there were no complaints or charges against Bjerknes during his tenure, apart from the March 20 sheriff’s department complaint.

Bjerknes was placed on administrative leave the same day school district leaders learned about the charges against him, and the School Board accepted his resignation shortly after that. He is scheduled to appear in state district court July 10.

Grace Pastoor

Grace Pastoor covers crime, courts and social issues for the Bemidji Pioneer. Contact her at (218) 333-9796 or gpastoor@bemidjipioneer.com

(218) 333-9796
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