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UND chairman charged with having child porn released from custody; allegedly shared non-pornographic images of grandchildren online

A former UND department chairman charged in federal court with distributing and collecting child pornography was released from jail Monday and placed on electronic home monitoring at his Cushing, Minn., home.

Robert Beattie
Robert William Beattie
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A former UND department chairman charged in federal court with distributing and collecting child pornography was released from jail Monday and placed on electronic home monitoring at his Cushing, Minn., home.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Alice Senechal released Robert William Beattie, 55, from custody at a hearing in the federal courthouse in downtown Grand Forks and permitted him to be around children under the age of 18 years old provided another adult is present, despite objections from a federal prosecutor.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Puhl, who is prosecuting the case, asked the judge to prohibit Beattie from having any contact with anyone under the age of 18, alleging Beattie had participated in chat rooms about incest and had sent non-pornographic pictures of his grandchildren to "individuals with sexual interest in children."

Peter Welte, the Vogel Law Firm attorney representing Beattie, protested the request, saying Beattie has never hurt a child.

"In his 55 years on this earth, he has not touched a child," Welte said.

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Welte said Beattie has already had his position chairing the Family and Community Medicine Department at UND and his medical licenses in North Dakota and South Dakota taken away and to bar Beattie from being with his grandchildren "would be to take away everything that matters to him."

UND placed Beattie on administrative leave shortly after he was arrested on Aug. 6, when Grand Forks police officers carried out a search warrant at his office and his home and allegedly found more than 800 sexually explicit pictures and videos of children ranging in age from 1 to 14 years old on Beattie's flash drive and computer.

The Medical Board of Examiners in North Dakota suspended his medical license several days later. Beattie voluntarily turned over his medical license to the South Dakota Board of Medical and Osteopathic Examiners in light of the charges.

"He needs his family more than ever at this time," Welte said.

Judge Senechal sided with Welte and told Beattie he is allowed to be around children only when another adult is present.

Puhl made a last request of the judge, asking Senechal to forbid Beattie from letting kids stay overnight at his Minnesota lake house, saying it was impossible for Beattie's wife to supervise him during nighttime hours.

She also pointed to a sexually explicit comment she accused Beattie of making about his niece.

"These were fantasies, if anything," said Welte in response, repeating there was no evidence Beattie had ever hurt a child.

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Ultimately, Senechal allowed overnight stays as long as Beattie notified U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services.

Beattie will have to abide by several conditions while on release.

He is not allowed to use computers nor is he allowed to access the Internet, Senechal said. Beattie must have a pretrial officer's approval before using any particular cellphone, she said.

He is not allowed to travel outside Minnesota, except when going to court hearings in North Dakota, and must surrender his passport, she said.

If his pretrial officer decides it is necessary, he will also have to undergo a mental health and/or sex offender evaluation.

Beattie is scheduled to go to trial at 10 a.m. on Oct. 27, though the date is subject to change.

He is charged with one count of distributing child porn and two counts of possessing child porn in U.S. District Court in Grand Forks.

Beattie has pleaded not guilty to the charges. The distribution charges carries a minimum penalty of five years in prison and a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.

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