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Ex-superintendent of Sawyer Public Schools pleads not guilty in sex case

Charles Soper

MINOT, N.D. – The former superintendent of Sawyer Public Schools pleaded not guilty Thursday to felony sex charges after a judge ruled there was probable cause to support allegations of a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old boy.

The defense attorney for Charles Soper, 50, Minot, indicated he plans to challenge a charge of human trafficking, a Class AA felony.

Soper, who resigned from the Sawyer school district after his arrest, also is charged with luring minors by computer and corruption or solicitation of minors, both Class C felonies.

Minot Police Detective Greg Johnson testified during Thursday’s preliminary hearing that a 15-year-old boy says he met Soper through Grindr, a gay dating smartphone app.

The teen’s parents discovered cell phone conversations about meeting for sex with another man, which prompted them to go to police in early May, Johnson testified.

The teen met with Soper 11 times between last November and April for sex, usually at Soper’s Minot apartment, Johnson testified. The sexual encounters often included another man, but police have been unable to identify the other men involved, Johnson testified.

The sexual encounters did not include the exchange of money or anything of value, Johnson testified.

Defense attorney Eric Baumann argued the state is using an “expansive” interpretation of the human trafficking definition. He requested that the charge of human trafficking be dismissed, but Judge Douglas Mattson directed him to file a formal motion and brief.

Deputy Ward County State’s Attorney Kelly Dillon argued that Soper’s actions of soliciting an underage boy for the purposes of having sex with other men meets the state’s definition of human trafficking.

Johnson testified that the teen knew Soper’s name because Soper had provided him with his Facebook profile. The teen also was able to accurately describe Soper’s apartment, Johnson testified.

The 15-year-old told police that Soper knew he was underage and had told the boy not to tell the other men how old he was, Johnson testified. Soper picked the teen up at his home after the boy’s parents were asleep, Johnson testified.

Under questioning from Baumann, Johnson said there is no physical evidence or witness testimony that can corroborate the teen’s allegations or that Soper knew he was underage.

However, investigators continue to review electronic devices and computers seized in the investigation and police are waiting for information from Grindr, Johnson said.

Soper is being held in the Ward County Jail in lieu of $250,000 cash bail. Baumann has requested a bond review hearing.

Soper sent the school district a letter of resignation shortly following his arrest after the Sawyer School Board asked him to resign, President Cody Roteliuk said. She declined to comment further.