The Northwest High School student and teacher who were arrested Tuesday made their initial court appearances Wednesday in front of Hall County Court Judge Alfred Corey.
Max H. Rookstool, the 17-year-old student accused of engaging in human trafficking and child pornography, appeared in court by video from Hall County Jail.
Rookstool is accused of 17 offenses, 16 of which are felonies.
He is charged with two counts of human trafficking, two counts of human trafficking of a minor, one count of first-degree sexual assault, 11 counts of visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct and one count of unlawful distribution of images or videos of another person’s intimate area. The alleged crimes took place between Aug. 1, 2018, and Oct. 4, 2019.
Corey enumerated the charges against Rookstool and asked if he understood them. One of the offenses, labor or sex trafficking of a minor, carries a sentence of 20 years to life. It is a Class 1B felony.
At this point, Rookstool said, he plans to hire an attorney rather than have one appointed for him.
Hall County Attorney Marty Klein said the state has very serious concerns about the safety of the public.
Klein asked Corey to set a significant cash bond because of the seriousness of the alleged crimes and the number of people affected.
In outlining probable cause, he said the defendant in essence used blackmail to commit the crimes.
Corey set bond for Rookstool at $750,000. To be released from jail, the defendant must pay 10% of that amount. The judge also specified that he have no contact with the alleged victims and scheduled his preliminary hearing for 10 a.m. Feb. 20.
Later, Brian Mohr appeared in Corey’s courtroom.
Until his arrest this week, Mohr was a teacher at Northwest High School.
Mohr, 37, is charged with 11 counts of possession of child pornography, each of which is a Class 2A felony. According to the complaint, those crimes all took place on July 1, 2019.
Corey set Mohr’s bond at $400,000. His preliminary hearing will be at 11:30 a.m. Feb. 12.
In Wednesday’s police media report, Grand Island police said Mohr was found to be in possession of 34 images of child pornography. “The identities and ages of these victims have been verified, and are confirmed to be under the age of 19 years old. Brian admitted to investigators that he knew he was in possession of child pornography,” the report says.
The media report also states that the juvenile male (Rookstool) “sent multiple nude images of children who have been identified, and confirmed to be under the age of 19 years old without their consent. The juvenile male used threat and or coercion to have a minor engage in sexually explicit performances and for the production of child pornography. The juvenile male also used these same unlawful means to have an adult engage in unwanted sexual activity and for the production of pornography.”
Police Capt. Jim Duering said the adult mentioned in the media report was a student who has become an adult.
Duering does not believe that Mohr “was involved in any of the trafficking or sexual assault activities.”
He said the people depicted in the photos did not consent to the sharing of the images.
In this case, police believe Rookstool used a ruse to obtain the explicit photos, and then shared them without consent, Duering said.
After Wednesday’s court appearance by Rookstool, Klein was asked if the victims are female or male. He declined to answer the question because he’s doing his best to avoid identifying the victims, he said.
Klein said his argument for probable cause “involved the defendant having coerced through threats of redistribution of people’s intimate photographs,” in part by requesting that they have sex or commit sexual acts with him, in addition to distributing numerous photographs of minors’ sexually explicit conduct.
Rookstool and Mohr were arrested by Grand Island police in conjunction with Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
The case started with the Grand Island Police Department but HSI was pulled in because of the trafficking aspect, Duering said.
The federal agency, which is part of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, “came through with some great resources,” he said.