A Forest Lake middle school teacher has been charged with sexually assaulting two of his male students while they were working for him at his home.

James Edward Carter, 56, of Forest Lake, has been charged with two counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct and one count of fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct by the Washington County Attorney's Office. Carter worked as a shop teacher at Forest Lake Area Middle School, according to the criminal complaint.

Two juvenile males, now 16 and 17, told the Washington County Sheriff's Office that their former middle school teacher had sexually assaulted them multiple times, the complaint said.

Carter paid his students and former students to complete work at his home and other properties he owned. He also provided them with gifts, the complaint said.

Carter befriended the first alleged victim after the boy got into a fight at school and was given the option of doing community service work in Carter's classroom. Carter hired the boy to complete home improvement projects at his house and then began attending church with him.

The alleged abuse involved Carter massaging the boy's legs and groin and rubbing his genitals on six occasions.

The first boy told his 17-year-old male friend, who also did odd jobs for Carter, that Carter had abused him. The second boy, who had met Carter while enrolled in his shop class, said Carter had also touched him inappropriately while giving him a massage, the complaint said.

The two learned of their similar experiences in mid-August, said Siv Mjanger, assistant county attorney for Washington County.

Mjanger said it's still rare for victims to report sexual abuse because they are often embarrassed, ashamed or think they somehow caused it to occur. She called Carter's actions "classic grooming behavior."

Washington County Attorney Pete Orput commended the students for coming forward.

"The defendant wholly abused his position of authority as a teacher and trusted adult to these young boys," he said in a statement. "This abuse and breach of trust erodes the very foundation of our education system and will never be tolerated."

Mjanger said she believes Carter is still employed by the Forest Lake district, or was until recently. Carter's name is no longer listed in the school district's directory.