Bjerknes pleads guilty to federal sex crimes
ST. PAUL — The former middle school assistant principal who posed as a teenage boy online to exchange sexual pictures with children pleaded guilty Thursday to two federal sex crimes.
Brandon Mark Bjerknes, 35, appeared in federal court in St. Paul, where he admitted to creating decoy social media accounts as part of what prosecutors called a scheme.
Bjerknes was charged in U.S. district court with one count of coercion and enticement of a minor to engage in sexual conduct and one count of production of child pornography.
During the plea hearing, Bjerknes confirmed that he had used the name Brett Larson to create the fake Facebook and Snapchat accounts. Posing as a teenage boy, the former Bemidji Middle School administrator asked multiple teenage girls, some of whom were BMS students, to send him sexually explicit pictures and videos.
Bjerknes preserved the explicit content and passed at least one photo or video along to a teenage boy.
Bjerknes had sexual conversations with at least 55 minors, prosecutors said. The minimum sentence for the coercion and enticement charge is 10 years in prison; the minimum sentence for the child pornography charge is 15 years. Bjerknes could, however, face life in prison. He will be sentenced following a pre-sentence investigation.
Families of some of the victims filled the second row of courtroom seating. Bjerknes’ wife and parents sat quietly in the back.
Following the guilty pleas, Bjerknes was taken into federal custody by U.S. marshals. His attorney Peter Wold told the judge that Bjerknes had asked him not to request his continued release. Bjerknes had been staying in a halfway house prior to the plea hearing.
“He takes responsibility for his shameful conduct,” Wold said.
In addition to the federal charges, Bjerknes has been charged with four felonies in state district court. The allegations against Bjerknes initially came to light in the fall of 2016 when the Beltrami County Sheriff’s Office started receiving complaint from parents of girls who attended Bemidji Middle School. The girls’ parents found “disturbing” messages on their children’s cell phones.
According to court documents:
Some of the content included Facebook messages from someone using the name Brett Larson, who claimed to be a student in Duluth. Investigators tracked the IP address associated with the Facebook account and learned that it was assigned to Bjerknes.
Law enforcement searched Bjerknes’ home on March 20 and seized his cell phone. Investigators then found Snapchat conversations between the username “BrettLarson6969” and two different children, which included photos and descriptions of sexual conduct.
The Beltrami County Attorney’s Office charged Bjerknes with four counts of engaging in electronic communication relating to or describing sexual conduct with a child. Prosecutor David Frank said Bjerknes will plead guilty to all four counts on Wednesday, Oct. 4.
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.