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Patrick Springer, Published January 24 2009

Former state psychologist Belanger gets 7 years for porn

Joseph Belanger struggled for more than eight years with his addiction to child pornography.

He alternately subscribed to and canceled a pornography service called “Desired Angels” that depicted young girls being sexually abused.

Friday, as Belanger was to be sentenced for his crimes, prosecutors and the judge agreed that he of all people should know the harm that could come from his actions.

Belanger was a state psychologist who evaluated sex offenders in North Dakota to determine their public safety level.

One of his computers, which together contained more than 3,000 images of child pornography, was in his office at the North Dakota State Hospital in Jamestown.

Federal prosecutors asked U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson to sentence Belanger, 61, to more than eight years in prison.

His defense lawyer asked for the mandatory minimum – five years – stressing that he had not touched any of his victims, nor had he distributed pornography.

Erickson settled upon a prison term of seven years, followed by supervised release for the rest of his life.

Belanger, who said he was himself a victim of child sexual abuse and suffers from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, appears to be a good candidate for rehabilitation, according to his evaluations, the judge said.

“I think there’s reason for optimism,” he said, while also noting that Belanger’s crimes cause great harm and never-ending suffering for the children who are exploited by pornography makers and viewers.

“It trickles through society,” Erickson said of child pornography and sexual abuse. “It has multigenerational impacts.”

Jennifer Klemetsrud Puhl, the assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted the case, argued that Belanger deserved a tougher sentence.

“It’s graphic, it’s disturbing material,” Klemetsrud said of the images confiscated from Belanger and available through “Desired Angels,” whose victims ranged in age from younger than 3 to 9 years old.

“These are real children with real stories,” she said, and read a statement from a 17-year-old girl who was abused – and photographed – when she was 10 and 11.

She was one of the girls Belanger had viewed in a series of images disseminated electronically around the world, Puhl said, reading from the statement.

After the hearing, U.S. Attorney Drew Wrigley said prosecutors were disappointed with the sentence, but accept it. Both he and Puhl said customers like Belanger fuel the child pornography trade.

“It drives an industry when people like Dr. Belanger are shoveling money into that industry,” he said.

“These are crime-scene photos,” Wrigley added. “It’s the worst kind of stuff you can imagine.”

Belanger made no statement at his hearing, and was immediately placed in confinement, but has said earlier that he plans to write a book so others can avoid his mistakes.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522