A former Anoka middle school theater teacher charged with sexually abusing five male minors over the course of a decade pleaded guilty Thursday to three felony charges and now faces up to 30 years in prison.
Jefferson Fietek, 47, was charged in June 2020 and faced a total of 10 felony counts of criminal sexual conduct after former Anoka Middle School for the Arts students and participants in a theater nonprofit he co-founded reported abuse spanning 2009 to 2019. They were all minors when they allege they were abused at school and at Fietek's Coon Rapids home, described in court documents as being full of Peter Pan and Muppets memorabilia.
When allegations surfaced, Fietek lost his short-lived job at Boston's Emerson College and was extradited to Anoka County, where he has since remained on GPS surveillance. Fietek will remain free and on surveillance pending sentencing Nov. 17, on the condition that he cooperates with the presentencing investigation.
Inside a courtroom with more than 20 attendees watching virtually and another 20 in person, including some of the victims and their families who were visibly emotional during the hearing, Anoka County District Judge Kristin Larson accepted the plea deal. Fietek admitted to performing oral sex on three of his accusers when they were all between the ages of 13 and 15.
Fietek, who will have to register as a predatory offender, also admitted to committing unlawful sexual acts against the other two victims, but part of the deal is that he's pleading guilty only to three counts of criminal sexual conduct related to victims A, B and E. On top of the three-decade maximum sentence, Fietek faces a fine of up to $40,000.
Fietek's attorney, Jack Rice, said to his client that by signing the plea agreement, he is admitting that, "Yep, it was me. I did it."
"Yes, this is all on me," Fietek said.
County prosecutor Beth Beaman asked Fietek how he met each victim and the type of sexual misconduct he engaged in with them. Fietek said he met them through school or the theater program he co-founded, Young Artists Initiative, which is housed at St. Paul's First Lutheran Church, and he met one victim on the dating app Grindr. He admitted that he initiated performing oral sex on the victims that wasn't reciprocated and that he was in a position of authority with each victim at the time of the abuse.
Fietek started working at the Anoka-Hennepin School District in 2005 and left in 2019 for Boston. He was an outspoken LGBTQ advocate who in 2014 unsuccessfully ran for a DFL Minnesota House seat. During a federal investigation of the school district in 2010, after a rash of suicides of mostly LGBTQ students, Fietek was featured in national publications such as Rolling Stone and Mother Jones as an advocate for LGBTQ students. The students have since condemned his actions.
Throughout Fietek's tenure with the district, three undisclosed complaints were filed against him. The Star Tribune found that at least one parent and Fietek's sister reported concerns to the school district about him spending time outside of school with young boys.
Most of the victims are now in their mid-20s. But one is still in high school and was at the hearing with his mother, who wiped away tears as Fietek described the abuse when questioned by Beaman about her son, identified in court documents as victim B. Fietek purchased a plane ticket for victim B to fly to Boston before allegations surfaced last summer.
Beaman asked Fietek if parents trusted him to spend time with their sons outside of school, and he said yes, adding that one mother helped with his campaign when he was running for state office.
Zander Danielson Sellie, 26, who has publicly self-identified as victim A, said outside the courthouse Thursday that the admittance of guilt "opens the possibility" of healing and accountability. Sellie's mother, Bev Danielson Sellie, said the plea deal was like "a weight lifted from us on our family."
Fietek's sister, Kristine Riley, said she feels a sense of relief for the victims, who won't have to go to trial.
"Him acknowledging that he's guilty validates that they were right," she said in a phone interview after the hearing. "I've been crying because I remember my little brother who I loved so much, but I'm glad the monster is going to go away. Now, he's not going to hurt anyone else."
Kim Hyatt • 612-673-4751