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Former North Idaho College official pleads guilty in scheme to exchange aid for sex

Joseph M. Bekken
Joseph M. Bekken

The former financial aid director for North Idaho College pleaded guilty Thursday to computer crimes and attempted misuse of public funds related to a scheme to entice students to have sex with him in exchange for college aid.

Joseph M. Bekken, 37, could be sent to prison for up to 7 1/2 years and fined as much as $52,500 when sentenced Oct. 19 in Idaho’s 1st District Court.

The Kootenai County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office said it would not object to concurrent sentences, reducing the maximum jail time to 5 years. District Judge Lansing Haynes noted, however, he could still impose the full 7 1/2-year sentence.

Prosecutors agreed to drop three other felony charges against Bekken: burglary, attempting to procure a prostitute and bribery using scholarship money from NIC’s private nonprofit foundation.

Haynes accepted Bekken’s guilty pleas in a 15-minute hearing. In a quiet voice, Bekken explained to the judge how he took NIC Foundation money and offered it to individuals in exchange for sexual relationships, and how he used the college computer system, including instant messaging, to discuss the inappropriate transfer of funds.

Prosecuting Attorney Barry McHugh declined to comment, prior to sentencing, on his reasoning for the resolution. A presentence investigation will be conducted to review Bekken’s criminal record, specific facts of the crime, employment and social history, and other factors.

“I’m satisfied because we have the freedom to recommend at sentencing what we think is appropriate, whether that’s a prison term or something less than that,” McHugh said.

According to investigators, Bekken first used a Craigslist notice to contact students with an offer of scholarship money in exchange for sexual relations. Police, working with NIC and the FBI, created a false student account under the name “Sheryl Roberts” to respond to the solicitation.

He secured $587 from the foundation for the fictitious student with the understanding he would go to her apartment to have sex with her on Feb. 2. Police confronted and interviewed him, and the college fired Bekken that day.

Bekken was hired in 2010 and was paid $73,720 a year, according to the college. Before that he worked five years at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix. That college said it also had fired Bekken.

Mark Browning, NIC’s vice president for communications and governmental relations, said Thursday the administration had no comment on the plea deal.

Bekken’s attorney, Sean Walsh, was traveling and unavailable for comment.