Grand Island teen to trial court in human trafficking, child porn case

Max Rookstool, shown in the upper right hand corner of this picture during a video hearing in Hall County Court. Rookstool is charged in adult court with felony human trafficking and child pornography. (SOURCE: KSNB)
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GRAND ISLAND, Neb (KSNB) - The Grand Island teenager accused of human trafficking and child porn is headed to trial court.

Tuesday, Max Rookstool, 17, waived an evidence hearing and a judge transferred his case to Hall County District Court for possible trial.

Rookstool is charged with one count of first degree sexual assault, two counts of human trafficking, two counts of human trafficking of a minor, 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.

Rookstool was arrested in January after a joint investigation by the Grand Island Police Department and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement's "Operation Predator" task forced.

Court records indicate the alleged crimes took place between Aug. 1, 2018, and Oct. 4, 2019. All but one of the charges are felonies. Each carries a max penalty of anywhere from four years to life in prison.

At the hearing in January, Marty Klein, Hall County attorney, requested the judge set a high bond for Rookstool due to the severity of the charges.

"Your honor, the state has very serious concerns about the safety of the public, about how this gentleman was able to coerce individuals, through blackmail, individuals to perform sexual acts," Klein said.

The judge set bond for Rookstool at $750,000.

Since then Rookstool has hired well-known Nebraska defense attorney Clarence Mock. In November, Mock successfully defended Daniel Harden of Hastings, getting an acquittal in a murder trial.

Grand Island police in January also arrested former Northwest teacher Brian Mohr, 37. Mohr is charged with 11 counts of possession of sexually explicit material (child pornography). Mohr was an English teacher at Northwest. A judge set bond at $400,000. His preliminary hearing is scheduled April 16..

A news release from the St. Paul, MN, office of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency said, "This investigation was conducted under Homeland Security Investigation’s Operation Predator, an international initiative to protect children from sexual predators. Since the launch of Operation Predator in 2003, HSI has arrested more than 25,000 individuals for crimes against children, including the production and distribution of online child exploitation material, traveling overseas for sex with minors, and sex trafficking of children. In fiscal year 2019, more than 3,500 child predators were arrested by HSI special agents under this initiative and more than 1,000 victims identified or rescued."

GIPD 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. Mohr admitted to investigators that he knew he was in possession child pornography.

Police said 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. They said Rookstool used threat and or coercion to have a minor engage in a sexually explicit performances and for the production of child pornography. Rookstool was also accused of using those same unlawful means to have an adult engage in unwanted sexual activity and for the production of pornography.

Numerous images have been identified as students at Northwest. The number of students affected was not known as of January as interviews were still on-going.

"Our primary concern is for the people who are possibly affected by this case that they know that they're not alone and they can come forward by either reporting it to the police department or contacting our victim witness advocates," Captain Jim Duering said in January.

At the time, Superintendent of Northwest Public Schools, Dr. Jeffrey Edwards released a statement which said, "on January 14, 2020, law enforcement informed Northwest Public Schools of an ongoing criminal investigation into Brian Mohr, a teacher in the District. Student safety is the highest priority at Northwest, and the District has been and will continue to work cooperatively with its law enforcement partners. The District will be providing support services and counseling for students. Although the District is unable to comment on any specifics due to student confidentiality and personnel privacy laws, Mr. Mohr will not be returning to the classroom."

Police said it is an ongoing investigation, and is being worked with the full cooperation of the Northwest School District.

Persons who may have information about this case are encouraged to call the Grand Island police department 308-385-5400 or the Grand Island office of Homeland Security Investigations 308-385-1409.

HSI encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free Tip Line at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE.

Read the original version of this article at www.ksnblocal4.com.