Hibbing Priest Aggressively Targeted Girls
By Tom Olsen
Duluth News Tribune
November 20, 2015
A prosecutor has fired back against a Hibbing priest who is seeking to have his child sexual abuse charges dismissed, alleging that evidence shows the Rev. Brian Michael Lederer demonstrated a pattern of targeting young girls.
Assistant St. Louis County Attorney Jeff Vlatkovich said in a 13-page letter to 6th Judicial District Judge David Ackerson that allegations of inappropriate touching made by four girls, along along with suspected child pornography recovered from Lederer's computer, point to "an aggressive and/or sexual intent."
"The defendant's conduct for a 28-year-old man can only be viewed as designed to obtain some sort of sexual gratification," Vlatkovich wrote.
Lederer, who worked at Blessed Sacrament Parish and Assumption Catholic School in Hibbing, faces seven felony charges related to the alleged inappropriate touching of the girls and possession of child pornography.
His attorney, Peter Wold of Minneapolis, filed a motion last month seeking dismissal of all charges. Wold contended that the charges were fueled by the ongoing sexual abuse controversy in the Catholic Church, and said authorities failed to show that Lederer acted with sexual intent.
"The twisting by the State of what was obviously a common occurrence does not make it a sexual act just because the state says so," he wrote. "There must be some evidence that suggests Mr. Lederer's outstretched arm was meant to fill a sexual desire."
Vlatkovich strongly rebutted the defense's claims, meticulously describing the allegations and evidence collected by law enforcement.
Two sisters were the first to come forward to report their experiences with Lederer, telling police that the priest had touched them inappropriately on multiple occasions over several months, according to the charges.
One of the sisters stated that Lederer had become closer with her and her family, but described their relationship as being "almost too close" and said Lederer's touching "has really gotten out of hand," according to documents. The girl reported that Lederer had pulled on her bra strap, touched her inner thigh and placed his hand on her genital area over her clothing.
Two other girls later came forward, telling police that Lederer had touched them inappropriately in the breast, thigh, genital and buttocks areas, according to the charges.
"Four young girls ranging in ages from 10-14 bravely came forward to disclose that the defendant betrayed their trust and abused his position by touching them in ways and places that betrayed the sacred trust they had in him," Vlatkovich said in the letter.
The prosecutor noted that concerns about Lederer's behavior were raised by school officials and parents of the victims. Several people reported that he had left for a time to seek alcohol treatment, according to the report.
One mother told police that Lederer was "more like a big brother or kid than a priest." The school principal told investigators that Lederer was "too permissive" with children and that he was letting them "goof around too much" in class, Vlatkovich said.
After Lederer was charged, a boy under the age of 10 allegedly reported to police that Lederer had twice showed him videos containing nude subjects in a computer class.
Investigators said a forensic analysis of Lederer's computer revealed five images of suspected child pornography. Pornographic searches also were found, the report said.
"It is no accident that or mistake that the defendant queried these files at the time in which he is twisting bra straps and touching preteen and barely teenage girls' breast areas," Vlatkovich wrote. "These facts undeniably demonstrate the defendant's sexual or aggressive intent when he touched all four alleged victims."
Lederer is charged with four counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct, two counts of fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct and one count of possession of child pornography. If convicted, he faces a maximum of 25 years in prison on the most serious charges.
Wold had alleged in his motion that the prosecution was overzealous in charging Lederer, based on a "cultural shift" in the perception of interactions between clergy and parishioners.
"Hugs are no longer gestures of caring, but sexual advances," Wold wrote. "Games played with kids are no longer innocent activities, but opportunities of sexual assault."
Ackerson took the defense's motion to dismiss under advisement, and is expected to issue a written ruling at a later date.
The Diocese of Duluth said in May that Lederer has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the legal process. While on leave, he is not allowed to minister as a priest or have contact with anyone younger than 18, the diocese said.
He remains free after posting a $250,000 bond in May.