A former North Idaho College supervisor was sentenced Monday to 107 days in jail for computer crimes and attempted misuse of public funds related to a scheme to entice students to have sex with him in exchange for financial aid.
First District Judge Lansing Haynes also sentenced Joseph Michael Bekken to three years of probation and imposed a $10,000 fine. He will be on work release during his jail term, leaving each day for his job and returning to jail each night.
Bekken, 37, was NIC’s financial aid director when college officials and police unraveled the scheme, which involved a Craigslist notice offering scholarship money in exchange for sexual relations. He was fired Feb. 2 and arrested Feb. 18 on five felony charges.
His attorney, Sean Walsh, said Bekken lost his career, family and reputation due to the crimes and is deeply remorseful and ashamed. Adding a prison sentence on top of that is too much, Walsh said.
“The way he responded to this is exactly the way that a good man would respond to this,” he said after the sentencing. “He completely confessed to his friends, his family, his neighbors, his co-workers, to law enforcement. And he’s done everything he can to set this right.”
Kootenai County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Jed Whitaker argued that a five-year prison sentence was appropriate in the case, plus a $20,000 fine, because Bekken took money from the public and used it for illicit purposes.
“This man stole money from the public and I believe he did it in a predatory manner,” Whitaker told Haynes.
He said Bekken attempted the sex-for-aid solicitation 20 times over a year and also paid a 24-year-old woman $2,400 in exchange for photos of a sexual nature.
“The trail of destruction he left behind because of his actions is incredible,” he added.
Bekken tearfully read a statement apologizing to the community and taxpayers, the college, his ex-wife Molly Bekken and their four young children.
“I took my power and I used it for my own selfish gain, and I’m sorry,” he told the judge.
Bekken also said, “I’d like to come out and say that I’m a sex addict. It’s no excuse for my actions. It’s part of me. It’s who I am.” He said he has been in “intense therapy” for his addiction since his arrest.
Addressing his ex-wife in court, he said, “I lied to you, I deceived you and I manipulated you. Because of my actions you now face financial uncertainty. … I am sorry I tore everything away from you, sorry I broke our happy life.”
Bekken pleaded guilty Aug. 20 to computer crimes and attempted misuse of public funds. The prosecutor’s office dropped three other charges: burglary, attempting to procure a prostitute and bribery using scholarship money from NIC’s private nonprofit foundation.
Bekken could have been sent to prison for up to seven and a half years and fined as much as $52,500. Prosecutors did not object to concurrent sentences, reducing the potential maximum jail time to five years.
Whitaker told the judge Bekken’s actions were calculated, not spontaneous.
“It’s not like he was walking past a petty cash drawer and grabbed a couple of bucks,” he said. “We’re talking about thought to commit a crime over and over and over again.”
Haynes did sentence Bekken to a fixed term of one year in prison for each of the two felonies, but the judge suspended those sentences, saying he found no justification for sending Bekken to the state penitentiary in order to protect society, deter additional such crimes, further punish Bekken or provide him with rehabilitation he couldn’t get otherwise.
Haynes said he believes Bekken has been “significantly deterred” from further offenses by what he has been subjected to in the past eight months. “He has lost his spouse, he has lost his family, he has lost his reputation, he has lost his career,” he said.
The judge further noted that Bekken has no other criminal history and no longer is in a position to commit a similar crime.
In his August plea hearing, Bekken explained how he offered college aid to individuals in exchange for sex, and how he used the college computer system, including instant messaging, to discuss the inappropriate transfer of funds.
After learning of the Craigslist solicitation, the Coeur d’Alene Police Department, the FBI and NIC officials created a false student account under the name “Sheryl Roberts” to respond to the ad. Investigators began corresponding with Bekken, who said he had “some extra grant money” to hand out in return for “some potential fun on the side.”
Bekken 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.
NIC President Joe Dunlap said the school’s emphasis on Title IX training helped the college act swiftly as police cracked the case and arrested Bekken.
“We are grateful for our strong partnership with the Coeur d’Alene Police Department, which contributed to a thorough investigation, arrest, and conviction,” he said in a statement.
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.
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