Bjerknes pleads guilty to local sex crime charges
BEMIDJI -- Bemidji Middle School’s former assistant principal, who posed as a teenage boy online in order to have sexual conversations with students and other children, pleaded guilty to four felonies in state district court Wednesday.
Brandon Mark Bjerknes, 35, pleaded in state district court to four counts of engaging in electronic communication relating to or describing sexual conduct with a child less than a week after he appeared in federal court to plead guilty to coercion and enticement of a minor and production of child pornography.
During Wednesday’s plea hearing at the Beltrami County Courthouse, Bjerknes admitted to his use of Snapchat and Facebook to have sexual conversations with four children, who he knew from his time as the middle school’s assistant principal.
About 30 people, many of whom were parents of Bjerknes’ victims, were present for the hearing.
“The communications were unprofessional and sexual in nature,” Bjerknes told prosecutor David Frank when asked about the content of the conversations with four different children.
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 misconduct occurred while Bjerknes was employed at the middle school. He 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.
Bjerknes was arrested for the federal charges May 30. He was accused in a federal criminal complaint of having sexual conversations with at least 55 children. He admitted to asking minors to send him sexually explicit pictures and videos; he sent at least one of those pictures or videos to a teenage boy.
Bjerknes’ attorney Peter Wold said Bjerknes was “wholeheartedly” taking responsibility for his actions.
“It’s a relief to Mr. Bjerknes to face up to his mental health issues that led to this,” Wold said after the local hearing.
Both federal and state officials must conduct presentence investigations before Bjerknes can be sentenced. A sentencing date for the federal charges has not yet been set; he is scheduled to appear in state district court on Jan. 10. He remains in federal custody.