SAWYER, N.D.-A former small-town superintendent was sentenced to 35 years in prison Thursday for a series of sexual encounters with 14-year-old and 15-year-old boys he met in an online chat room.
Charles Soper, 51, a North Dakota native who had worked as an administrator in Sawyer and lived in nearby Minot, had pleaded guilty in April to a charge of gross sexual imposition-a Class AA felony for having sex with a 15-year-old boy who told authorities.
In court Thursday, Soper disputed some of the findings of the case, arguing that his accusers misled him by claiming they were 18 years old, according to a KFYR-TV report.
Deputy State's Attorney Kelly Dillon said, however, that Soper should have known better.
"He was preying on teenagers, and regardless of his position that these boys maintained that they were 18 years old, he is an administrator, and educator, whose career has been spent working with children of this age," said Dillon.
The state also brought to light findings from investigators of images and videos of children engaging in sexual acts on a laptop computer and tablet in Soper's home, said the television report.
Soper along with his attorney Eric Baumann pleaded with the court to lower his sentencing from a plea deal agreement of 35 years to 20 years, citing his lack of criminal record before the incidents.
"I didn't have any intention of doing any harm to anybody. But I do recognize that I did," said Soper.
But Judge Douglas Mattson didn't agree, upholding the 35 years.
"A good part of their world was shattered. I have no direct information of knowing that, other than what's in the files, but there was harm done," said Mattson, according to the television report.
Soper will also have to turn over electronic devices to the authorities, go through sex offender registration and treatment, and he must avoid contact with anyone under the age of 18 without supervision.
As part of the deal, the state agreed to drop a human trafficking charge against Soper.
None of the victims in the case were students at the school where Soper worked, and the incidents did not occur there.
In his earlier court appearance in April, Soper made a statement saying he pleaded guilty for several reasons including the desire to avoid the possibility of even longer incarceration if found guilty in a trial, and to avoid a trial he said would be exploitative and disheartening for his family and friends and the victims and their families.
Soper, according to earlier reports, had contacted one of the boys, who alert authorities, through the smartphone app Grindr. The boy was able to identify the user as Soper from the Facebook account the man provided in case the boy's parents took away his phone.
The boy said Soper picked him up when he was able to sneak out of his parents' home while they were sleeping and drove him to Soper's Minot apartment and had sex with Soper and another male.
Soper is a Devils Lake native, a Devils Lake High School graduate and earned his bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of North Dakota.
He began his education career in the late 1980s teaching English and speech in Walhalla and also taught at Fort Totten.
After Soper earned his master's degree from UND in 1996, he became principal in Beach in far western North Dakota in 1997 and was later promoted to superintendent.
He then moved in 2002 to Colorado, where he was superintendent in the Park County and Lamar school systems.
According to the school's website, Soper had worked in Sawyer, a town of 350 people, since 2014.