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Ex-teacher faces 10 felony porn charges

BROWN COUNTY — A 30-year-old Sleepy Eye man was charged in Brown County District Court Monday with eight counts of felony possession of pornographic work involving minors and two felony counts of using minors in pornographic work.

Neil A. Kirchoefer, 630 2nd Ave. N.W., was released from the Brown County Jail Monday on his own recognizance with conditions that he remain in contact with Brown County Probation, not leave Minnesota without written court approval, remain law-abiding, make all future court appearances, have no contact with anyone under age 18, make and maintain contact with his attorney, and not possess or use any pornographic or sexually explicit material.

“The allegations in the complaint are deeply concerning. If you wanted to flee, you would have done it by now,” said Brown County District Court Judge John Docherty. He set Kirchoefer’s unconditional bail at $75,000 with a promise to reappear.

“There is no bail amount that is enough. Part of my job is to ensure children are protected. I’m asking for $500,000 bail,” said Brown County Assistant Attorney Dan Kalk before bail was set.

Kalk said more than 1,400 images were found on Kirchoefer’s computer and 1,142 images came back as identified children.

There was no information that any Brown County juveniles were victimized.

“Your honor, this goes beyond possession. He (Kirchoefer) is a gatekeeper to child porn. He collects photos of juveniles and chats with them on the dark web. We may be just scratching the surface here,” Kalk said.

In addition, Kalk said other law enforcement agencies are investigating the case and Kirchoefer used browsers to cover his tracks.

Kirchoefer’s Minneapolis attorney said Kirchoefer could have left the state and country but he didn’t and that he and his wife have strong community ties. He said Kirchoefer had no prior criminal history other than speeding tickets and $500,000 bail was excessive.

A second-court appearance was set for 9:30 a.m., Tuesday, Feb. 19.

Kirchoefer was placed on unpaid leave immediately and he was not allowed access to the school after the allegations surfaced in late November. He resigned shortly thereafter, according to a Feb. 8 statement from St. Mary’s School Principal Peter Roufs.

According to the complaint, on Nov. 28, Sleepy Eye Police met with Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s School staff members who wanted to report a staff member viewed potentially illegal images on a school network computer.

According to the report, at about 4 p.m. on Nov. 27, a school staff member was logged into the school network and could see all the network devices but only one was active, “J1.” The staff member logged in, clicked on to control the screen and went into screen sharing with that device. The staffer said they saw boys about 12 years old in their underwear, legs spread apart and a banner at the top that read “boys, boys, boys.”

The staffer left to find the computer, went across the hall and found Kirchoefer in the room. The staffer asked him who would be on “J1” and he responded that he was. The staffer approached the screen as it was shutting down and immediately reported the incident.

School staff members brought the computer, an Apple MacBook Pro with “J1” written on top, to the Sleepy Eye Police Department.

Police met with Kirchhoefer who said what he viewed was unintentional with unknown content until it was opened. He said he had no intentions of viewing anything illegal and anything underage was unintentional.

Kirchoefer said he was on a site the day before while using his MacBook, he didn’t know the name of it but that it was Russian hosted and he got into it through the browser. Kirchoefer said a zip file contained hundreds of photos, nothing sexual, but some were nude.

Police got a consent to search form, filled it out and Kirchoefer signed it. Kirchoefer also filled out a consent to search his residence regarding the computer, which he signed. Police gave Kirchoefer a ride to his residence where he retrieved the MacBookAir and gave it to police. Police applied for a search warrant.

The next morning, the school’s HP laptop was given to law enforcement. On Dec. 4, police found a third device dropped off by school staff. Police had a property receipt filled out for an iPad. After search warrants were granted, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office was retained to do forensic analysis of the devices.

A Washington County Sheriff’s Office investigator located 1,452 images containing child pornography, 18 movie files containing child pornography or belonging to a series of child pornography. In addition, chat logs between a Skype user and suspect on Microsoft Skype that appeared to be sharing child pornography links were found. A total of 65 Skype chat messages were recovered.

In addition, Kirchoefer would send links containing child pornography including a 22 minute, nine second video to other people.

On Jan. 14, 169 images and 27 movies containing child pornography or belonging to a series of child pornography were submitted by authorities to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Law Enforcement Portal. The image/video appeared to depict at least one child previously identified by law enforcement.

Web history on an Apple iPad showed that the user visited Instagram and viewed numerous profiles with young boys or teens. Instagram profiles were for young teen LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) youth.

Fritz Busch can be emailed at fbusch@nujournal.com.

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