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Psychologist denies guilt in porn case

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news Worthington, 56187
Worthington Minnesota 300 11th Street / P.O. Box 639 56187

FARGO, N.D. - Allegations against a former North Dakota State Hospital psychologist say he received multiple images of child pornography dating back to 1999, at the same time he provided expert testimony about sex offenders.

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Dr. Joseph Belanger appeared in U.S. District Court in Fargo Monday after a grand jury indicted him on three child pornography charges.

Belanger, 61, Jamestown, pleaded not guilty to the charges, which are one count of possessing and two counts of receiving materials involving the sexual exploitation of minors.

Belanger resigned from the State Hospital in Jamestown late last year after federal authorities seized his computer equipment.

U.S. Attorney Drew Wrigley said the case began with an Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigation called "Operation Flicker" involving child pornography Web sites that charge for subscriptions.

Belanger is accused of receiving the images in November 1999 and June 2007. That led authorities to execute a search warrant, Wrigley said.

Officers found child pornography on two laptops and one computer owned by Belanger, as well as five CDs and six zip disks, the indictment says.

Wrigley and Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Klemetsrud Puhl would not say how many images Belanger is accused of possessing or other details about the investigation.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Karen Klein ordered Belanger to go to Centre Inc., a Fargo halfway house, until electronic home monitoring can be set up at his Jamestown residence.

Belanger has several conditions of release, including no unsupervised contact with minors and no access to computers or the Internet.

Klemetsrud Puhl said prosecutors didn't object to electronic home monitoring because Belanger has no children in his home and he's cooperated with authorities, including surrendering to U.S. marshals on Monday.

A trial is set for Sept. 29.

In a Nov. 27 letter to the State Board of Psychologist Examiners, Belanger detailed what he called his "compulsive viewing of pornography."

Belanger said he has been "frightened of the world and of women so (he) mostly used pornography ... as an outlet."

Defense attorney Steve Light said despite the letter, Belanger is formally denying his guilt and they look forward to reviewing the evidence in the case.

Light said if the allegations against Belanger are true, it's further evidence that this type of illness can strike anyone.

Belanger worked for the State Hospital for more than 20 years and began evaluating sex offenders in 1997. Light said Belanger testified in hundreds of trials involving sex offenders.

"He was the go-to guy for the state," Light said.

Wrigley said the position Belanger held adds to the potential impact of this case.

Two Iowa sex offenders who were sentenced to be locked up for the rest of their lives will get new trials because Belanger was a key witness in their prosecution, according to The Des Moines (Iowa) Register.

Wrigley said until a recent law change, North Dakota required the state to have two psychologists examine sex offenders, in addition to a psychologist for the defense.

Those redundancies may mitigate the number of North Dakota cases that are affected, Wrigley said.

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