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Kyle Potter, Published January 08 2014

Fargo man sentenced to 30 years in child pornography case

FARGO – A federal judge on Wednesday sentenced a Fargo man to 30 years in prison for sexually molesting and taking pornographic videos and photos of young girls between 2 and 6 years old – images that were discovered only after he lost his cellphone at a Fargodome concert last fall.

Victims’ family members, the federal prosecutor and even U.S. District Court Judge Ralph Erickson said they wanted a harsher sentence for Dustin Muscha, 33, who faced up to 80 years in prison for two counts of sexual exploitation of minors and two counts of possession of materials involving the sexual exploitation of minors.

But the prospect of dragging victims and their families through a trial, among other complicating factors, led to a plea deal after Muscha pleaded guilty to his charges in June.

“I don’t think anybody is very happy with where we’re at with this case,” Erickson said. “I’m not happy.”

Muscha was arrested in Oct. 2012 after investigators determined a cell-phone – found at the Carrie Underwood concert a month earlier and turned in to a local Sprint store – belonged to Muscha.

His phone and other electronics in Muscha’s storage unit had more than 500 pornographic photos and 13 videos taken over the last decade, many depicting him sexually molesting girls as young as 2 years old. In each case, the four victims were in his care at the time the images were recorded

After serving his sentence, Muscha will spend the rest of his life on supervised release with more than a dozen strict conditions, including registering as a sex offender within three days and requiring approval of a probation officer before using the Internet. The court will consider over the next two months whether Muscha will pay restitution to his victims.

Several family members of the victims gave emotional testimony in court before Erickson handed down Muscha’s sentence.

The mother of one victim said she had lost her job and home since 2012, and her daughter is petrified to go to school or leave her side.

“She sleeps with her light on and she cries in her sleep,” she said. “It’s unjust to allow him to walk after 30 years. He killed a part of everyone involved in this case.”

The father of another victim turned around to stare at Muscha as he told the court: “No amount of time should be enough for this thing sitting here.”

The Forum is not naming family members of the victims in case the victims could be identified.

Muscha cried as he apologized to his victims’ families present in court Wednesday. Muscha said he took responsibility for his actions, and cried again as he wondered whether he would see his son again.

“I’m ashamed of what I did, and I don’t want to be that person ever again.” Muscha said.

Erickson laid into Muscha: “It’s not about you. It’s not about whether you suffer.”

The judge and several family members of victims said in addition to filming pornographic material of minors, Muscha also secretly set up video cameras in bathrooms and bed-rooms of girlfriends and some family members.

Erickson also expressed his disgust that some of Muscha’s family members had reportedly harassed victims’ family members on Facebook.

“Doesn’t anybody have any common decency? I am offended to my core. It is the height of injustice,” he said.

Erickson said some family members’ desire to avoid a trial, and the fact that some of Muscha’s crimes happened in Minnesota, led to a 30-year plea agreement that he said wasn’t long enough.

“These children live with this every day of their lives and their families live with this every day of their lives,” he said. “It’s the crime that keeps giving. These kind of injuries, they go on forever.”