James E. Jensen, the former Miles City athletic trainer accused of running a systematic decades-long child sex abuse scheme, pleaded not guilty to a federal charge Friday in U.S. District Court.
Jensen is charged with coercion and enticement of a minor to engage in sexual activity, according to federal documents filed Dec. 21.
The 78-year-old Jensen had been held at the Custer County jail since Dec. 13 on 10 unrelated child porn charges and was moved Thursday to the Yellowstone County Detention Facility, technically transferring him into federal custody.
Friday's hearing lasted only four minutes and was attended by at least three of Jensen’s alleged victims. He was appointed a public defender and will continue to be held in federal custody.
The indictment says that Jensen "beginning in or before 1995, and continuing until in or around 1999 ... knowingly and unlawfully used means of interstate commerce, including the internet, to persuade, induce, entice and coerce an individual who he believed had not attained the age of 19 years to engage in sexual activity."
It also references "The Program" in background for the case, and asserts that the suspect's systematic abuse was "employed by Jensen on school property, at his personal residence in Miles City, and other locations" and that it continued after Jensen's termination from the district in 1998.
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State investigators and Custer County officials said all of the potential abuse of minors happened outside the state's statute of limitations, so they were unable to charge Jensen with those crimes. The child pornography — including images of boys as young as 9 — was allegedly discovered as investigators were looking into those allegations. A housekeeper in the care home where Jensen lived in Miles City spotted the child pornography on his computer screen and confronted him, the charges state.
A lawsuit that now has 31 plaintiffs alleges Jensen methodically groomed young athletes for abuse during the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s while acting as an athletic trainer for Custer County District High School. Jensen admitted to some of the abuse during a September conversation with The Gazette after the suit was filed.
One of Jensen’s alleged victims said he attended the Friday federal court appearance because he “needed to be in the same room with him again.”
“I wanted to look him in the eye. I wanted to let him know I’m still here, I’m not backing down,” the man said. The Gazette has a policy of not naming the victims of sex crimes. The Gazette knows his name and has verified his identity with his attorney.
“I gave him a wink and a smile. I was glad to see him where he was, dressed in jail clothes,” the man said.