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Stephen J. Lee, Published May 28 2009

Former Grand Forks area man facing more than two dozen child porn charges in South Dakota

A former Larimore, N.D., man with a long string of convictions in North Dakota and Minnesota pleaded not guilty Wednesday in a state district court in Aberdeen, S.D., to more than two dozen counts of child pornography possession and trying to sexually exploit a minor.

His previous criminal history here may jack up the prison time he would face in South Dakota if convicted.

In February and March, Robert Kolding, 52, sent images during an Internet chat to someone he thought was a teenager and tried to arrange a meeting, prosecutors in Brown County allege. The “teen” actually was an undercover agent in another state who contacted South Dakota authorities. Because Kolding tried to arrange a meeting with the supposed teen, he was charged with attempted sexual exploitation of a minor, prosecutors said. He was charged with 25 counts of possession of child porn, according to the Aberdeen American News.

Investigators took three computers from Kolding’s home.

Kolding pleaded not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity to all the charges Wednesday. Normally, child porn possession in South Dakota is a felony with a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine.

But Lori Ehlers, deputy state’s attorney in Brown County, said Kolding has three prior felonies in other states. According to court records, Kolding has two felonies in Minnesota: failing to register as a sex offender and writing a bad check. He has a felony in North Dakota, too. In 2002, he was convicted in Walsh County court of felony theft of property for a string of bad checks to business in Grafton, Edinburg and Minto. He was living in Grand Rapids, Minn., at the time.

Ehlers told the American News with three previous felonies, Kolding could see each child porn charge’s maximum sentence bumped up to 25 years in prison and $25,000 in fines.

The charge of attempted sexual exploitation of a minor in South Dakota usually carries a maximum sentence of a year in prison, but if Kolding is deemed a habitual offender, the sentence could be upped to 5 years in prison, the American News reported.

Kolding, who is deaf, grew up near Larimore, N.D., and has lived in Grand Forks, Fargo and several places in Minnesota the past 20 years, and moved back to Larimore several years ago.

For at least the past 15 years, he has a long list of bad check charges in several North Dakota counties, as well as a sex-crime-related misdemeanor charge in 1999 in Grand Forks for “possession of certain prohibited materials.” He was sentenced on that charge in 2003 to two years of supervised probation in the case, was required to get sex offender treatment in Grand Forks, had to register as a sex offender for life, and had to pay the cost of deleting obscene material on his computer, according to the court record.

He was sentenced in 2004 in Grand Forks court to a year on probation for failing to register as a sex offender.

At the time, his address was Long Prairie, Minn.

Kolding was convicted in Anoka County, Minn., court in 2001 of soliciting a child to engage in sexual conduct.

Despite his long record of convictions, including some felonies in North Dakota and Minnesota, Kolding apparently has never served much time behind bars. He has been in jail in Grand Forks within the past few years, and now is in jail in Aberdeen.

Kolding, who can’t hear and has limited speaking skills, required a sign interpreter in court, said Grand Forks County State’s Attorney Peter Welte.

“His disability has certainly affected his ability to communicate with law enforcement and the courts and typically, the ability to communicate and function is something the court can’t help but take into account,” Welte said. “Courts have typically tried to accommodate his disability as best they can.”

The Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald and The Forum are both owned by Forum Communications Co.