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Former teacher’s porn ‘horror story’ earns maximum prison sentence

RAPID CITY -- A case that federal prosecutors and a seasoned judge described as the most egregious, sadistic case of Internet pornography involving children they have ever seen in their careers ended with a 25-year-federal prison sentence Monday ...

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Assistant U.S. attorney Sarah Collins, South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley and Brent Gromer, head of the South Dakota Crimes Against Children Task Force, appear at a press conference on Monday, Nov. 16, 2015, in Rapid City, S.D., after the sentencing of Andrew Hiipakka on child pornography charges. Kayla Gahagan / Forum News Service

RAPID CITY -- A case that federal prosecutors and a seasoned judge described as the most egregious, sadistic case of Internet pornography involving children they have ever seen in their careers ended with a 25-year-federal prison sentence Monday for a former 28-year-old Rapid City Catholic school teacher.

Andrew Hiipakka, who taught at St. Thomas More Middle School, was arrested in August 2014 and convicted of attempted enticement of a minor using the Internet. During Monday’s sentencing, Federal Court Judge Jeffrey L. Viken also mandated that Hiipakka be supervised the rest of his life after his release.

“I haven’t seen a case like yours,” Viken said. “You’re a predator. It’s a Catholic school teacher, who also teaches sex education class, behind a web cam, enticing boys to do sexual acts.”

Assistant U.S. attorney Sarah Collins, who prosecuted the case, described some of Hiipakka’s acts as “shockingly violent,” and urged the judge to sentence Hiipakka to the maximum allowed by federal sentencing guidelines, 27.5 years. The minimum is 10 years.

“Ten years is laughable,” she said, waving a report. “This reads like a horror story. The depth of depravity you have to have at your core … There are parents here so horrified that this man had direct access to their children.”

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The investigation, which was conducted by the South Dakota Crimes Against Children Task Force, recovered 100,000 images of children, 1,000 video chats involving underage  children all over the country - from Alabama to New York and London to Germany. Many of the images were acts involving pre-teen and teenage boys, pornography Hiipakka admitted he received and traded during November 2013 and August 2014.

Collins described one Skype session that involved a boy strapped to an ironing board while being assaulted. There were 1,135 different Skype video conversations, some in which the boys were enticed to perform sexual acts for Hiipakka.

“This case is really unthinkable for a parent,” said South Dakota U.S. Attorney Marty Jackley said during a press conference after the four-hour sentencing.

Before being sentenced, Hiipakka stood to apologize, saying he had two promises.

“I will never, ever again be involved in criminal sexual conduct involving children,” he said.

“And I promise to hold the health and well-being of children as a significant priority in my life.”

He said he started viewing pornography in middle school and didn’t view children until about 2012, and regrets his actions.

“I knew it was wrong, I knew it shouldn’t be in my life,” he said. “There’s not a single day that has gone by where I don’t regret what I did … I’m ready to start my life over again as soon as you will let me. My life is in your hands.”

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In a 17-page typed letter to the judge, Hiipakka said he didn’t view himself as a danger around children. Viken asked why.

“I devoted 90 to 95 percent of my life to the good of children,” he said. “When it comes to my identity, I guess that’s who I am.”

But there was another side that creeped in, he said.

“I was never going to do anything to them,” he said, his voice shaky. “I didn’t want to.”

At one point, Hiipakka hung his head and cried.

“I’m sorry,” he said, into the microphone.

Discussed often during the sentencing was the fact that Hiipakka did not have physical contact with any of his victims.

Viken, who has been a prosecutor, defense attorney and now a judge, said he struggles to understand how the victimization is any different for a victim who has been physically touched by an adult and the victim who has been coerced into performing sexual acts over the Internet.

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“I’m having a hard time understanding how the victimization is any different,” he said. “The only difference is the adult is not in the room.”

Hiipakka’s attorney Gary Colbath asked Viken to consider Hiipakka’s life leading up to the crimes, including attending Catholic seminary while considering the priesthood, never getting in trouble with the law and a good upbringing, supported by 19 letters from family and friends. He

asked Viken to sentence Hiipakka to 10 years, with the opportunity to do sexual offender treatment while incarcerated.

“He’s educated, hard-working, a loving, kind family, a good upbringing, no truancy, no pranks,”  Colbath said. “All of these positive characteristics, they’re true. They’re accurate for 24 years of his life. He’s done some good things in his life and the court has to account for that.”

While Colbath argued there is no evidence that Hiipakka became a teacher to have access to children, Viken said there was plenty of evidence that his two lives crossed. Hiipakka had  described fantasies involving locations and students at the school and had identified two boys in the school he was attracted to, Viken said.

“He connected his access to children with his victim pool,” Viken said. “ … It would be difficult to imagine a parent’s’ nightmare more difficult, besides a child being raped, which given some of the acts, some wouldn’t see a distinction.”

Collins pointed out that a search of one of Hiipakka’s computers revealed Google searches for how to groom victims and a search of a map of Rapid City foster care homes.

“He was hunting for the perfect victim,” Collins said.

Viken encouraged Hiipakka to use his time in prison wisely.

“Prison is not a death sentence,” he said. “For a person with your abilities, it may be a way to do good. I wish you success in the demons we talked about here.”

Related Topics: CRIME
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