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Published October 05 2011

Wahpeton man to plead guilty in child porn case

FARGO – A Wahpeton man who faces decades in prison for possessing child pornography says he now wants to plead guilty to the federal charges he faces.

The attorney for Benjamin Joseph Hager filed notice this week that Hager wants to change his plea in U.S. District Court.

Hager’s decision comes barely a month after he lost a court fight to throw out a search of his apartment that uncovered 747 VHS tapes containing images of child porn.

Hager argued that the November 2010 search of his residence was illegal because investigators exceeded the scope of the signed warrant.

District Court Judge Ralph Erickson ruled in favor of federal prosecutors, agreeing that investigators had probable cause to search the tapes and acted in “good faith.”

Hager, 37, faces two federal charges of sexually exploiting children in a case that connects him with a Detroit-area man who used his four underage daughters to create and distribute sexually explicit images.

Robert John Mueller was sentenced last month in Eastern Michigan’s U.S. District Court to serve 45 years in prison, followed by a lifetime of supervised release.

Court documents show Hager and Mueller traded emails and shared images over a peer-to-peer network, as well as exchanged packages by mail.

When investigators searched Hager’s tapes to seek evidence of Mueller’s crimes, they uncovered other images containing child pornography.

Those images – which amount to as many as 4,400 hours of tape – form the basis of evidence for prosecutors’ case against Hager in North Dakota.

A hearing has not yet been set for Hager to formally change his plea.