More than 20 years after the alleged crimes, federal prosecutors have charged a former high school athletic trainer with sexual abuse of a minor in connection with accusations he molested dozens of teenagers under the guise of making them better athletes.
BuzzFeed News published a detailed account this month of the allegations against James E. Jensen of Miles City, Montana, after talking to more than a dozen men who said they were victimized when they were minors. At the time, the men expressed anger that the state’s statute of limitations meant Jensen likely would not face criminal charges in the case. But three days later, a federal grand jury indicted the former Custer County District High School athletic trainer.
According to an indictment unveiled by the US attorney for Montana on Friday during Jensen’s first federal court appearance, Jensen used materials from the Internet to try to persuade boys to participate in what he called his “Program,” which allegedly involved molestation of dozens of boys. He’s charged with violating a law against using interstate commerce to “to entice and coerce” a minor to engage in sexual activity.
The three-page indictment did not go into detail about Jensen’s alleged internet use to lure boys, and a spokesperson for the US attorney’s office said they were not available to answer questions about the case due to the government shutdown.
The federal charges are the latest legal move against Jensen, now 78, who was known as “Doc” during his years as an athletic trainer. More than 30 men who say they were abused by Jensen when they were high school athletes have joined in a lawsuit filed against him in September. That lawsuit says Jensen molested kids as far back as the ’80s and may have abused as many as 200 boys. Separately, Jensen faces state criminal charges involving child pornography that prosecutors say was found on his computer.
After the lawsuit was filed, Jensen admitted to local news outlets that he had masturbated boys, but he denied some of their allegations of anally penetrating them. Local police investigated Jensen last fall but said the state’s statute of limitations for charging him with sex abuse had passed. The statute of limitations does not apply to federal charges involving child sex abuse.
Jensen has pleaded not guilty to both the state and federal charges, according to the Billings Gazette. He faces up to 15 years in prison on the federal charge alone.
The federal indictment echoes the lawsuit and states that Jensen practiced his Program on school property. The school has denied any of its employees knew of alleged abuse by Jensen during his time there, but some of the men told BuzzFeed News that they’d complained about Jensen’s behavior to athletic department employees. In addition, a 1997 memo signed by top school administrators, including one who is now a state lawmaker, directed Jensen to end his “Mentorship Program,” and said he could no longer give students full-body massages unsupervised.
Jensen's victims have all remained anonymous so far. They came together to file the lawsuit after Jensen began sending friend requests to several of them on Facebook, and after he asked for forgiveness in a cryptic message posted in an alumni group for the high school.
According to the Gazette, some of Jensen’s accusers were in court Friday. “I wanted to look him in the eye. I wanted to let him know I’m still here, I’m not backing down,” one of them told the newspaper.