A Sierra Leone orphan had become an adult by the time he committed alleged sex crimes with underage girlfriends -- despite his claim that he's actually two years younger and was a minor at the time, a Dakota County district judge ruled on Monday.

It's not the first time age has been an issue for Samuel Benda, a media darling when he arrived in Minnesota in 2005. He was said to be 11 when adopted, but soon began insisting that he was two years older.

Until, that is, he was charged as an adult with two felony crimes in Dakota County.

His defense has been that he was not 18 at the time of the offenses in 2010 and that there's nothing to prove he was at least two years older than his alleged victim, an element needed for the act to be criminal.

On Monday, Judge Robert King pointed to Benda's long insistence that he was older and held him to it, despite his current claims.

Seven weeks ago, the Dakota County Attorney's Office charged Benda, 19, of Burnsville as an adult with third-degree criminal sexual conduct and possession of child pornography, both felony crimes, in connection with consensual relations with minors.

One victim told police that last year, when she was 15, they had sex three times in Lakeville. Benda was 39 months older, and court papers say the victim's mother told him in July 2010 that her daughter was 15. After they broke up, Benda threatened to share on Facebook the videos and images he said he had secretly captured of them having sex.

Police didn't find images of that girl when they searched his phone and computer. But they did allegedly find sexual images of a 17-year-old on his phone. Police interviewed her and she said that she knew they were taken, court papers say.

In 2004 and 2005, it took the help of congressional representatives to help bring Samuel Benda from a Sierra Leone orphanage to his adoptive parents. Their story was chronicled by the Star Tribune and other media outlets. When Samuel, thought to be 11, stepped off the plane, he was greeted by his new parents -- and reporters.

Records from Fairview Medical Center at the University of Minnesota soon quoted a physician as saying: "Samuel is a 12-year-old male; however, he tells me he is 14 years old."

Other examiners say he appeared older than 12. And later, Dr. Randall Schmidt at Fairview Ridges Clinic saw him as his parents sought confirmation of his age. They told Schmidt that the Sierra Leone orphanage had falsified ages to make the children more "adoptable," court papers say.

Schmidt placed Benda's age between 13 years, three months and 14 years, three months, rather than 12.

Benda stopped using the orphanage's birth date of Oct. 27, 1993, and used Oct. 27, 1991, as his birth date on many documents, the judge noted.

King also said the orphanage had filled out a form that asked "has the orphan had serious difficulties with any adult authority, including the person having charge of the orphan?"

Someone at the orphanage had written "no." But King said Benda was diagnosed with oppositional defiance disorder, which might have involved serious difficulties with adult authorities, including at the orphanage.

"Thus, the credibility of the form is called into question," King wrote. "If the form was prepared by the defendant's orphanage, then it gives credence to the defendant's claim that the orphanage was trying to get kids adopted who might be less 'adoptable' were the truth known about their age, in that kids who have difficulties with adult authority would also be less adoptable."

Joy Powell • 952-882-9017