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Former Minn. assistant principal plans guilty pleas to charges related to explicit childrens' images

Brandon Mark Bjerknes

BEMIDJI, Minn. — A former Bemidji Middle School assistant principal accused of receiving sexual pictures from children is expected to plead guilty to state and federal charges.

Beltrami County prosecutor David Frank said Brandon Mark Bjerknes, 35, will plead guilty on Oct. 4 to four counts of engaging in electronic communication relating to or describing sexual conduct with a child.

A plea hearing for Bjerknes is also set to take place in federal court in St. Paul on Sept. 28. Bjerknes is charged federally with one count of production of child pornography and one count of attempted coercion and enticement of a minor.

Bjerknes' federal charges initially included an additional count of production of child pornography and one count of distribution of child pornography. Those charges are no longer listed as "pending counts" on the federal court's website.

On Sept. 13, federal prosecutors filed a "felony information" document outlining the charges against Bjerknes. This method of charging is often used when a defendant plans to waive the grand jury indictment process and plead guilty.

The deadline to indict Bjerknes has been extended twice as attorneys work to resolve the case.

Bjerknes was taken into federal custody May 30. According to a federal criminal complaint, the former assistant principal used a decoy social media account to get children as young as 12 to send him explicit photographs.

According to the complaint, Bjerknes gave the children — some of whom were Bemidji Middle School students — specific instructions related to the requested pictures. He is also accused of sending the children pictures of his own genitals, and of preserving the photos they sent to him via Snapchat with a second iPhone.

The federal charges were filed months after local prosecutors charged Bjerknes with multiple counts of engaging in electronic communication relating to or describing sexual conduct with a child. He has pleaded not guilty to two of the local charges, but has not entered a plea on the two others.

The federal charges do not impact those filed in state court. Frank said he recently received confirmation from Bjerknes' attorney that Bjerknes planned to plead guilty to the local charges.

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.

Federal prosecutors, as well as Bjerknes' attorney, could not immediately be reached for comment.

Bjerknes is on 24-hour lockdown at a halfway house.

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