Michael Delmore, a retired high school counselor charged with hiring a 17-year-old for sex, pleaded not guilty Monday in state district court in Grand Forks, through his attorney.

Delmore, 60, did not appear himself, waiving his right to the appearance on the Class B misdemeanor. His attorney, Tim O'Keeffe of Fargo, entered a not guilty plea for Delmore and asked for a pre-trial conference to be scheduled. It was set by state District Judge Joel Medd for Dec. 6.

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Medd told O'Keeffe that Delmore had to appear for it.

O'Keeffe told the Herald that Delmore likely will comment later on the case.

Delmore is the only alleged customer charged in what the Grand Forks County prosecutors say was a ring of two men and a woman prostituting a 17-year-old girl to several male customers in Grand Forks over several months in early 2011.

Those three -- Amanda Stewart, Joshua Harry and Travis Johnson -- all face Class AA felony charges of human trafficking of a minor in state district court, which carries a maximum penalty of life in prison without parole.

Stewart bailed out of jail this summer. Harry and Johnson, who face other charges, remain in the Grand Forks County jail. The three are scheduled for preliminary hearings Oct. 24 and arraignments Nov. 14.

Delmore was a counselor at Larimore (N.D.) High School for more than two decades before retiring last spring.

According to investigators' affidavits in the case file:

On a weekend night in late March or early April 2011, Stewart and Harry took the girl to Delmore's Grand Forks home after he had contacted them hours earlier via a sex ad about the girl posted by Harry on the controversial website Backpage.com.

Delmore paid Stewart between $200 and $350 up-front, then was left alone with the 17-year-old. He paid her about $80 for certain sexual acts. Harry and Stewart waited outside on the street in a vehicle and later split the money with the girl.

Several other men paid Stewart for sex with the girl, including a UND professor who is listed as a possible prosecution witness, but none of them has been charged yet.

Delmore's wife, Lois Delmore, is a Democratic state legislator from Grand Forks.

Call Lee at (701) 780-1237; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1237; or send email to slee@gfherald.com.