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Seibel enters guilty plea over sexual abuse charges

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Lynn Seibel
Lynn Seibel walks into the Rice County Courthouse Friday, July 12, 2013 in Fairbault, Minn.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

Former Shattuck-St. Mary's teacher Lynn Seibel pleaded guilty today to seven counts for the sexual abuse of six male students at the Faribault boarding school more than a decade ago.

"This is something I am not proud about," Seibel, 71, said. "I apologize to my family and everyone involved. I'm very, very sorry."

Seibel could serve less than three years in prison. He pleaded guilty to one count of second-degree criminal sexual conduct, five counts of fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct and one count of the use of minors in a sexual performance. 

Rice County District Court Judge Christine Long ordered Seibel to receive psychosexual assessment prior to sentencing.

Long will likely sentence Seibel to 52 months in prison for the most severe count and several years of probation for the others, attorneys on both sides said. Seibel will receive credit for the time he spent in jail, and he could have his sentence cut by more than a year for good behavior in prison. 

Rice County Attorney Paul Beaumaster agreed to drop a felony count for the possession of child pornography and nine other charges. Seibel's attorney, Jim Martin, said he was skeptical of the child pornography charge, which was based on the school's investigation of Seibel's computer in 2003. "I don't know that there was ever any proof that I'm aware of that he had it," Martin said. Police did not find the computer, and the school said it doesn't know what happened to it.  

The charges Seibel pleaded guilty to include sexual abuse of each of the victims named in the criminal complaint last year.  In court today, Judge Long asked Seibel to describe what he did in each count. 

"It is true that there was physical contact between this individual's penis and my hand," Seibel said about one of the charges.

Lynn Seibel, James Martin
Lynn Seibel, left, and his attorney James Martin walk into the Rice County Courthouse Friday, July 12, 2013 in Fairbault, Minn.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

Long asked Seibel to confirm the abuse took place in the boy's dormitory.  

"That's correct.  And I abused that position," Seibel answered.

Seibel appeared dejected. He arrived for the hearing on a Greyhound bus from Burnsville that was running late, and he declined to comment outside the courtroom.

More than year ago, police opened an investigation of Seibel's alleged sexual contact with students at the school. In October, Rice County Attorney Paul Beaumaster charged Seibel with 17 felony counts for alleged possession of child pornography and the sexual abuse of six male students from 1999 to 2003.

Beaumaster noted that the plea agreement includes counts of sexual abuse against each of the six victims identified by police last year. "Mr. Seibel accepts responsibility for what he did to each one of those victims, and he'll be held accountable for it," Beaumaster said after the hearing.

A DRAMA TEACHER WITH A TROUBLED PAST

Seibel taught drama at Shattuck-St. Mary's from 1992 to 2003 and lived in one of the dormitories. School officials hired him despite an earlier criminal conviction for lewd conduct. Then in May 2001, the school investigated allegations of sexual misconduct by Seibel but said it found no evidence to support the claims.

An MPR News investigation found several teachers and administrators saw or knew of sexual behavior by Seibel in the boy's dormitory. Former teacher Seth Hedderick even recalled walking into a "naked dance party" of teenage boys overseen by Seibel. He said he told the headmaster the next day but nothing was done.

In court today, Seibel acknowledged his involvement in the naked dance parties.  He said that boys at the school had a "tradition" of dancing naked in the showers. "I enhanced that, I didn't stop it," Seibel said. 

Judge Long asked, "Did you encourage it?"

"Yes," Seibel replied. 

Seibel said that sometimes other adults would come down to the showers because they were concerned about the noise.  He did not elaborate.

"It was just the kind of dances the boys like to do," Seibel said.

According to Hedderick, the dorm was a chaotic, sexual place where Seibel allowed students to break rules. "It was almost 'Lord of the Flies' kind of mentality," Hedderick told MPR News in January. "It was woe to somebody who was not big and strong enough to take care of themselves. It was disturbing."

Last year, six former students, now in their late 20s and early 30s, told investigators that Seibel held naked dance parties and group masturbation "sessions" known as "AP Drama" in the boys' dormitory, the criminal complaint said. Three victims said Seibel touched them when they were alone. They described how Seibel would play pornographic movies while boys masturbated. One man said Seibel urged him to become a porn actor.

"Basically you could just get the roster of the dorm when I was there ..." one man told police, "Everyone was involved in this."

MORE COVERAGE
• Change in law opens door for lawsuits
• Ex-Shattuck-St. Mary's student sues school
• Should Shattuck have told police about child porn?
• Timeline of the Shattuck-St. Mary's case
• Former teachers say school knew of abuse by Seibel
• Second charged teacher subbed in St. Paul
• 2nd Shattuck teacher charged with assault
• School profile: News reverberates far beyond elite campus

Seibel left the school in August 2003 after a months-long investigation by the school found child pornography on his work computer. The school's review began in May 2003 when Seibel dropped off his computer at the school's technology department for repair. Tech workers found sexually explicit images, and the school then sent the computer to Databank Services, a computer company in Texas, for forensic analysis. The company told the school it found child pornography — thousands of images, investigators would report nine years later. 

Seibel lost his job but no one called police. The child pornography remained a secret until last year when a former student told a corrections officer he had been sexually abused by police, and a criminal investigation uncovered the images. The school said it doesn't know what happened to Seibel's hard drive. 

Last year, it gave police a "record of the images" and a copy of the Texas company's report. Prosecutors relied on the "record of the images" to charge Seibel with possession of child pornography because police did not find the computer.

Police arrested Seibel last year in North Hollywood, Calif., where he had been working as an actor. A search warrant of the former teacher's apartment found a computer with sexually explicit images of boys, according to a criminal complaint.

During the search, Seibel recorded an interview with police in his bathroom. He confessed to measuring boys' genitals with a ruler, holding masturbation sessions and touching boy's genitals while at Shattuck-St. Mary's, according to the criminal complaint. 

"There were times when I did inappropriately touch, and it was stupid, it was stupid on my part," he said.

However, Seibel denied having sexually explicit images of children, and a charge in Los Angeles for possession of child pornography was later dropped to speed his extradition to Minnesota. 

In a jail interview with MPR News in March, Seibel said he was not guilty of any charges.

After today's hearing, Martin, Seibel's attorney, said his client is "genuinely repentant."

"He is going to try to salvage what he can of his life," Martin said. "He was a successful person. He was a leader there, and he realizes that he breached his trust."

"You can't erase the past, but you can start a new life, and he did that, probably several years ago," Martin said.

Shattuck-St. Mary's still faces a civil lawsuit filed by attorney Jeff Anderson earlier this month on behalf of a former student who says he was sexually abused by Seibel. The lawsuit accuses the school of negligence for allegedly overlooking the naked dance party and for hiring Seibel despite a previous conviction for lewd conduct. The former student is not among the victims included in the criminal complaint. Anderson said he plans to file more lawsuits against the school.