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James E. Jensen


James Jensen, the former Miles City athletic trainer facing federal charges related to a decades-long system of sexual abuse, molested Miles City children during trips with them to North Dakota and California, according to documents filed by federal prosecutors Wednesday. 

The filing also accuses Jensen of contacting other boys online while masquerading as a teenager himself, to the point that a relative accused him of having "high school-aged boyfriends all over the country."

Jensen is scheduled to appear Friday in U.S. District Court in Billings. He submitted a guilty plea to charges of coercing and enticing a minor.

Jensen has admitted to recruiting male student-athletes into "The Program," an escalating system of sexual abuse that relied on the false promise that activities like masturbation would improve their athletic performance. 

Prosecutors based the charges by framing Jensen's use of the internet to research "The Program" as use of interstate commerce, but a judge expressed doubts about that reasoning during a Feb. 12 hearing.

The new documents aim to bolster prosecutors' case for a scheduled Friday hearing and reveal new accusations against Jensen. 

A separate civil lawsuit brought by about 30 plaintiffs accuses Jensen of grooming and abusing hundreds of boys in his capacity as an athletic trainer for Custer County District High School, and it accuses the school district of failing to stop Jensen's abuse. 

The plea submitted for acceptance by Jensen is still a significant document in his admissions about the abuse, saying Jensen "admitted as to the basic tenets of 'The Program' ... and had applied it to hundreds of minor children."

Wednesday's filing accuses Jensen of molesting a boy, at the time a Miles City seventh-grader, during a 1995 trip to North Dakota for a one-day wrestling tournament. The victim said the abuse was done under the guise of a hernia check. 

The filing also cites a second case of sex abuse against another Miles City boy on "an athletic-related trip" to California during which Jensen was the only chaperone.

The alleged victim from the North Dakota trip is now in his mid-30s. In a conversation with The Billings Gazette Thursday morning, he called Jensen "a monster," and said he was glad the former trainer has finally been charged with a crime. 

"I was one of the lucky kids, I moved away just as the abuse was getting really bad," he said. "A lot of kids from that school, I guess, had to stay and take it."

The second alleged victim, who traveled to California with Jensen, said Thursday he's pleased the 78-year-old former trainer will likely spend much of the rest of his life in jail. 

"He should have been put away a long, long time ago," he said. 

Attorneys cite Jensen's use of "travel on interstate highways and airways" as an element to establish that Jensen used interstate commerce to perpetuate his abuse. They also point to Jensen's repeated use of the telephone to contact victims. 

The filing doesn't abandon the feds' original argument that Jensen's use of the internet to research elements of "The Program" qualifies as interstate commerce. However, U.S. Magistrate Judge Timothy Cavan expressed doubts about whether that related directly to coercion or enticement.

The feds also point more strongly to Jensen's contact with minors over the Internet, which was mentioned only in the original filing. 

According to court documents, "In approximately 1995, one of Jensen's daughters discovered that Jensen had 'high school-aged boyfriends all over the county.' Jensen was convincing these boys that he was also a high school boy."

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The daughter confronted Jensen, but he said he was merely "counseling" the boys. 

"She later became aware that Jensen was 'cat-fishing' underage boys throughout the United States," documents say, referring to the practice of creating a false online identity to deceive others. 

Prosecutors filed a separate legal brief to bolster their argument that the "three types of use: telephone calls, searching for and downloading the Program from the internet, and interstate travel," qualify as a direct use of interstate commerce to coerce or entice a minor. 

At the Feb. 12 hearing, Jensen didn't contest prosecutors' arguments. 

"We certainly wouldn't be here if we didn't think the government could satisfy that (burden of proof)," said Jensen's defense attorney, Steven Babcock. 

If Jensen's guilty plea is accepted or he is convicted, he faces 15 years in prison. 

Jensen also faces 10 child porn charges from state prosecutors after investigators allegedly found images of boys as young as 9, including some engaged in sex acts, in his apartment.

However, state investigators and Custer County officials said all of the potential abuse of minors directly related to "The Program," happened outside the state's statute of limitations, so they were unable to charge Jensen with those crimes.

The federal charges do not carry a statute of limitations, so federal prosecutors are able to go after Jensen for offenses related to the program so long as they establish federal jurisdiction. 

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