One of five accusers in an ongoing criminal sexual conduct case against a former Anoka-Hennepin middle school teacher and arts instructor says a loophole in Minnesota's mandated reporting law allowed their abuse to go unreported for years.
Zander Danielson Sellie, 25, recently testified in support of a bill before the state Legislature that would expand the definition of "mandatory reporters" to include adults beyond education and child care.
Sellie, who uses the pronouns they/them, was a teenage participant in the Young Artists Initiative (YAI) more than a decade ago when founder Jefferson Fietek allegedly raped them. Though Sellie shared what happened in a Facebook post and then attended a follow-up meeting with their parents and other adults, none of those people reported the allegation to law enforcement.
"How do we prevent terrible things from happening? By tweaking mandated reporter laws," Sellie said in an interview. "[Fietek] had no shortage in access to children. He had a way about building an empire around him with a number of very, very complacent people. If this is one person, where else is this happening?"
State Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn, DFL-Roseville, said she didn't know the mandated reporting loophole existed until she watched the documentary "Athlete A," which refers to Maggie Nichols, a Roseville Area High School graduate and one of hundreds of gymnasts who were abused by former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar.
A mother of two young children who play club soccer, Becker-Finn said she realized Minnesota's mandated reporting law wouldn't apply to coaches, leaders with Boy Scouts of America — which is in the midst of a sexual abuse case with 90,000 alleged victims — or adults in Sellie's case.
Becker-Finn's bill would expand the definition of mandatory reporters "to make sure there is a burden, an obligation on the part of folks who are around our kids and have access to our kids," she said at a committee meeting earlier this month, where the bill was approved unanimously. Becker-Finn is looking for a companion bill in the Senate, which she said she hopes will be introduced next week.
"The fact that [Fietek] wasn't reported likely means that more abuse occurred to more children, and that part is just heartbreaking," she said.
Fietek faces 10 felony criminal sexual conduct charges in an ongoing Anoka County case stemming from his time with YAI and as a teacher at Anoka Middle School of the Arts, with alleged abuse spanning from 2009 to 2019. While most of the victims are former students of Fietek's, Sellie attended school in St. Paul. YAI is based out of First Lutheran Church in St. Paul, which Sellie's family attends.
YAI Artistic Director Matthew Berdahl did not respond to requests for comment. In a statement provided to the Star Tribune, the group's board of directors said, "neither any of the staff or the current board were involved at the time in question and so our ability to address some of this is limited. … Undeniably, this is a difficult situation for everyone affected."
The statement added that relevant information was turned over to authorities in cooperation with the investigation and the agency has policies and procedures in place to ensure the "safety and well-being of the young artists who participate in YAI." The board declined to provide copies of those policies.
Jack Rice, Fietek's attorney, said in an interview that he is still trying to determine if law enforcement was notified in 2009 of the alleged abuse, "because if this were reported to law enforcement back in 2009, [with] the statute of limitations, you can't bring this claim this far out."
Sellie posted on Facebook in 2009, when they were 14 years old, that Fietek had raped them. The post prompted a meeting at First Lutheran Church with Sellie's parents, a supervisor at St. Paul Public Schools, YAI board members, Pastor Chris Olson Bingea and her wife, Brenda Olson Bingea. Fietek was also present.
Most of the people who were at the meeting did not respond to requests for comment. Former YAI Board Member David Holewinski said he doesn't recall what was discussed, and is no longer involved with YAI nor affiliated with Fietek "in any context," adding that Fietek left YAI in 2010.
Sellie said they retracted the abuse claim after Fietek told them to remove the Facebook post, so the focus of the meeting was Sellie's mental health and how they should take a break from YAI and be more careful about what they post on social media. The alleged abuse was not reported to law enforcement, Sellie said, and it didn't end after the meeting.
Sellie's mother, Bev Danielson Sellie, said she never went to authorities because "we were all led to believe this was not true." The focus of the 2009 meeting was how to help her child, she said, not to address the abuse allegations.
"Jefferson was a mentor," she said. "I feel totally duped, lied to, humiliated, angry, sad. … We were told and it was stressed that this was all a fabrication."