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Stephen J. Lee, Forum News Service, Published March 28 2014

ND National Guard sergeant faces multiple charges of sex crimes against minors

GRAND FORKS - Eric Sansburn, a sergeant in the North Dakota Army National Guard’s military police unit, pleaded not guilty in Grand Forks on Friday to federal charges that he committed sex crimes against children for years.

The allegations include interstate transport of underage girls for sexual purposes, producing pornographic videos of a minor girl and possessing child pornography showing victims as young as 6.

Sansburn, 29, grew up in Grand Forks. If convicted of the charges, he faces up to life in prison and mandatory minimum sentences of up to 15 years.

A federal grand jury’s indictment of Sansburn on eight felony counts was filed Wednesday and he was arraigned Friday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Alice Senechal.

Sansburn has been investigated by Grand Forks police since September on similar charges involving some of the same victims. The state charges included more detailed allegations, including that he engaged in sexual acts with several of the underage victims.

As in most such cases, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security also got involved in what became a joint investigation. Typically, local and federal prosecutors decide together which jurisdiction takes up any particular case.

This week, local prosecutors dismissed all state charges against him this week as the feds moved in.

Sansburn has been in the Grand Forks County jail since Jan. 14, when the latest state charges against him were filed.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Puhl is prosecuting Sansburn, who was represented Friday by defense attorneys Tyler Morrow and Patrick Rosenquist.

He will be held until his detention hearing Monday.

The first six counts he faces carry maximum sentences of life in prison and mandatory minimum sentences of 10 years or 15 years. Counts seven and eight carry top sentences of 20 years.

Counts one and two of his federal charges allege he transported underage girls in 2007 and 2010 in “interstate and foreign commerce, with the intent that (they) engage in sexual activity.” Counts three through five allege he coerced and enticed underage girls in 2012 and 2013, using cellphones and the Internet, to engage in sexual activity. Count six says he coerced a minor girl in 2011 to engage in sexual acts while he recorded them on video for purposes of producing pornography. Counts seven and eight allege that in December he was in possession of child pornography depicting a victim younger than 12.

Alleged admission

Sansburn joined the Army National Guard in 2006 and remains a member with the rank of sergeant, according to Guard officials, who said typically, until a criminal charge becomes a conviction, a soldier is not separated from the service.

Five years ago, Sansburn spent a yearlong tour in Iraq with the Guard’s 191st Military Police Co., based in Fargo. He came home in January 2009 eager to see his son, who then was almost 3, he told the Herald at the time.

He said then he planned to seek a job with the U.S. Border Patrol or Customs and Border Enforcement, both part of Homeland Security.

According to Grand Forks investigators, Sansburn applied for a job with the Border Patrol in June. While taking the required polygraph test in West Fargo, Sansburn admitted he had sent sexually explicit photographs of himself to underage girls about 100 times since 2002, also receiving photos from the girls.

Grand Forks police said they began investigating Sansburn in September after a Grand Forks man told police his minor daughter appeared to be in a relationship with Sansburn.

Police said they found sexually explicit messages Sansburn sent in 2011 to a 14-year-old girl in North Carolina, trying to teach her sexual acts and asking her to “be my little sex slave.”

She is one of the victims mentioned in the federal charges.

On his computer equipment, Sansburn had child porn showing male and female victims, some as young as 6, Grand Forks police said in their probable cause affidavits.