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Published July 09 2012

Felony sticks for North Dakota man convicted of luring minor

FARGO – An Emerado man who pleaded guilty to luring a minor by computer received a harsher sentence Monday than recommended by the prosecution or defense, ensuring the felony conviction will stay on his permanent record.

Steven Arthur Pfeiff, 23, must serve one year of a three-year prison sentence, with the balance suspended during five years of supervised probation, under a sentence handed down by Judge Frank Racek in Cass County District Court.

Racek also ordered that Pfeiff register as a sex offender, have no contact with the victim and pay $775 in fines and fees.

The sentence was harsher than the joint recommendation from attorneys, which called for a one-year term that would have allowed the conviction to be converted to a misdemeanor if Pfeiff successfully completed probation.

Assistant State’s Attorney Renata Selzer said that while it was a “very serious case” with “extremely concerning” behavior, the misdemeanor option was recommended because of Pfeiff’s otherwise clean criminal record and acceptance of responsibility.

Pfeiff pleaded guilty to the Class B felony luring charge via an Alford plea, meaning he didn’t admit responsibility but acknowledged that a jury could find him guilty based on the evidence.

According to court records, Pfeiff had several online chats with a 12-year-old girl who exposed her nude body via a webcam. Pfeiff exposed himself to the girl, and the two talked on the phone and exchanged text messages, records show.

A tip from a parent got Fargo police involved, and a detective posed as the girl and exchanged text messages with Pfeiff for about two months. Police arrested him in October after he traveled from Emerado to Fargo believing he was going to meet the girl in a parking lot, police said.

Pfeiff’s attorney, Daniel Gast, said Monday that the girl initially portrayed herself as 18 years old, and Pfeiff’s crime was continuing the relationship after he learned she was younger.

Pfeiff’s parents said after the sentencing that their son is a good kid who didn’t realize the seriousness of his mistake.

Racek said a pre-sentence investigation indicated that Pfeiff would benefit from treatment and is a low-to-moderate risk to reoffend. But the judge also said the serious nature of the incident can’t be minimized.

Pfeiff still faces four felony counts of possessing prohibited materials and one count of contributing to the delinquency of a minor in Grand Forks County related to pictures authorities allegedly found on his computer as a result of the investigation.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528