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Stephen J. Lee, Forum News Service, Published February 24 2014

Former ND counselor sentenced to 30 years for sexual relationship with 14-year-old girl

GRAND FORKS – A judge Monday sentenced a man to 30 years in prison for sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl in a Grand Forks hotel after being her counselor at a summer church camp in Belcourt.

Sean Kovalevich, 28, had asked for a 10-year sentence with five years suspended.

His attorney, Kiara Kraus-Parr, reminded state District Judge Sonja Clapp that Kovalevich’s victim, in a written statement to the court, said she didn’t want him to go to prison at all.

Kovalevich has no prior criminal history and used no violence or threats against the victim, Kraus-Parr said.

“Mr. Kovalevich did not expect this relationship to turn sexual,” Kraus-Parr said. He had “very little experience in dating or in sexual relationships and this was a person who showed him a lot of attention.”

But Kovalevich bought the girl “hundreds” of sexually suggestive items of clothing as well as “handcuffs and a whip,” leading up to his crime, Meredith Larson, the assistant state’s attorney for Grand Forks County, told Clapp in recommending a 30-year sentence.

Kovalevich met the girl when she was 13 at a church camp, Larson said. He took advantage “of a young Native girl who lived on the reservation, who was vulnerable and whose station in life didn’t allow her to have cellphones, to stay in hotel rooms or go out to eat,” by giving her those things and leading her into a sexual relationship, Larson said Monday. Because of the girl’s age and Kovalevich’s age, it was a violent crime, Larson said.

Kovalevich wrote the girl many letters, found in his apartment, telling her he was “addicted” to her and, “I just want to be with you forever,” Larson said in court.

Larson told Clapp that “clergy members,” the girl’s mother and grandmother, and law enforcement officers, including from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, “attempted to intervene and stop him from having a relationship with this child.”

Previous deal

Kraus-Parr argued Monday that nothing in the case had changed since the prosecution had offered Kovalevich a plea deal before trial.

She said her recommendation of 10 years with five years suspended was similar to the deal Kovalevich turned down before trial.

Kovalevich did not testify at his trial and said little Monday at his sentencing. He declined comment as he was led out of the court room.

He came to North Dakota in 2010 from his home in Middleton, Del., to work and volunteer in St. Anne’s Catholic parish in Belcourt, a mission on the Turtle Mountain Chippewa reservation. The parish typically has several volunteers each summer from around the nation.

He stayed and taught elementary school at St. Anne’s, the school the girl attended.

When he was arrested in fall 2012 at his apartment in Cando, he had just begun teaching biology at the public high school in Starkweather.

The fact Kovalevich was a counselor and teacher in Belcourt meant he violated a position of public trust in his relationship with the girl, Clapp told Kovalevich.

“She did not have a real stable home life and you would pick her up and drive her to your apartment and she would be gone for days, while she was in seventh grade,” Clapp said.

He was convicted last year of engaging in sexual acts twice with the girl in February 2012 in the Canad Inn in Grand Forks when she was 14. The two Class AA felony counts of gross sexual imposition carry possible maximum sentences of life in prison without parole.

Clapp ordered him to serve 10 years of probation after his 30-year sentence, to register as a sex offender and complete sex offender treatment.

He also was sentenced to five years for a lesser but similar felony against the girl in August 2012 in the same hotel after the girl had turned 15. He will serve that sentence at the same time. He got credit for 125 days he’s spent in the Grand Forks County jail.

State investigators have turned over evidence to the Cass County state’s attorney they say shows Kovalevich committed similar sexual offenses against the girl in the Ramada Plaza hotel in Fargo in February and August 2012, according to statements made in court.

He also faces a felony charge of corruption of a minor in Cando, alleging he had sex with her in his apartment there in late 2012 and a misdemeanor count of resisting arrest.