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Published December 01 2011

Wahpeton man could face harsh penalty for child porn charges

FARGO – A federal judge said in court documents this week that he’s prepared to consider a more severe penalty for a Wahpeton man who faces up to two decades in prison for possessing and receiving child pornography.

Benjamin Joseph Hager, 37, pleaded guilty to the charges in October.

U.S. District Court Judge Ralph R. Erickson notified prosecutors and Hager’s attorney that he might consider a sentence above what sentencing guidelines call for when he hands down Hager’s sentence next month.

Prosecutors say Hager traded numerous images over email with a Detroit-area man who used his four underage daughters to create and distribute sexually explicit images.

Hager and Robert John Mueller also exchanged packages by postal mail.

Mueller was sentenced this fall in eastern Michigan’s U.S. District Court to serve 45 years in prison, followed by a lifetime of supervised release.

During a search of Hager’s home, investigators found 747 VHS tapes, with as many as 4,400 hours of tape that contained images of child pornography.

The possession charge against Hager carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. Receiving the materials carries an additional prison term of between five and 20 years.

Erickson said “evidence of (Hager’s) sexual interest in children demonstrated through letters, emails and an online conversation with a minor” warrants consideration of a stiffer penalty.

In the federal court system, guideline calculations based on various factors help judges determine a fair sentence.

Under certain criteria, judges can deviate from the guidelines but must notify attorneys in advance of the sentencing.

Attorneys have until Dec. 28 to submit written arguments toward Hager’s sentence.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541