MANKATO - Two felony child pornography counts were filed against the head football coach at Minnesota State University, Mankato, on Wednesday.
Todd Hoffner, 46, of Eagle Lake, was charged after videos of nude children dancing were found on Hoffner's school-issued cellphone by a university IT professional, who reported it to school officials.
In the videos, three children, ages 9, 8 and 5, are shown naked or partly clothed. In one video, all three drop towels covering their bodies and jump around, while an 8-year-old boy fondles himself and the two girls bend over and spread their buttocks. In the second video, the girls are dancing naked and the boy enters naked, wearing only a football helmet. In the third video, one of the girls is shown being awakened in bed and told by a male voice "to go potty" before she is followed to the bathroom in her underwear with the camera focused on her buttocks.
On Wednesday, Hoffner, in an orange prisoner's jump suit, sat quietly in Blue Earth County District Court as he was charged with using minors in a sexual performance or pornographic work and possessing pornography involving minors. Both are felonies.
As the coach was escorted by deputies from the courtroom immediately after the hearing, his wife and attorney headed to a private conference room without speaking to the news media.
Prosecuting attorney Michael Hanson, who argued in court that Hoffner shouldn't be allowed to have contact with his three children -- who were shown in the videos -- also declined to discuss the case.
Minutes later, as Hoffner's attorney walked hurriedly from the courthouse, he scoffed at the charges and said the videos weren't evidence of criminal activity. "There's nothing in there," said Jim Fleming. "There's nothing in that video that is descriptive, graphic, abusive or exploitative."
Fleming argued in court that the images at issue "could be seen as something completely different than what they are assuming."
"We're going to fight this," Fleming said. "My client is innocent. We will fight this to the very end."
Hoffner was released from jail Wednesday night after posting bail of $40,000.
His next court appearance is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. on Aug. 30.
According to the complaint, Hoffner brought the phone to the university's IT department on Aug. 10 because it was not working properly. An IT supervisor saw the videos on Aug. 14 when he was reviewing a back-up copy of data from Hoffner's phone to locate videos and pictures that the coach wanted retrieved.
The IT professional alerted his supervisor about the footage and met with the university's chief information officer Ed Clark and DeeAnn Snaza, the assistant director for human resources at Minnesota State.
On Aug. 16, Snaza gave a disk containing the videos to the Mankato Department of Public Safety, which after review, turned the investigation over to the Blue Earth County Sheriff's Office.
On paid leave
Hoffner was put on paid administrative leave from his coaching position on Friday and a university investigation is pending.
On Wednesday, university spokesman Dan Benson said, "It is unknown as far as the length of the leave."
Hoffner was entering his fifth year as coach of the Mavericks, compiling a record of 34-13. Hoffner began a four-year-contract with the school in July, Benson said. His base salary is around $100,000.
Athletic officials and university coaches were tight-lipped on Wednesday, saying they've been told by administrators not to discuss the case.
But the tree-lined Minnesota State campus, about 90 miles south of the Twin Cities, was buzzing as students began moving in for the start of fall classes next week.
Bethany Hohenstein, a junior from Maple Grove, sat in disbelief in the student center, calling the arrest, charges and publicity a black eye for Mankato.
"And it's just really sad, because this is a great community," she said.
As Hoffner was posting bail, his football team was several miles away, sweating through an evening practice in preparation for a season that begins with a game in Minot, N.D., next Thursday -- the date of his next court appearance.
Aaron Keen, an offensive coordinator promoted to interim head coach, said the routine of training camp has helped keep his players from dwelling on Hoffner and more serious issues.
"We've had many team meetings as things have taken place here," he said, declining to be more specific. "We're just trying to keep our heads down and keep grinding away."
Kaleb Wendricks, a sophomore defensive tackle from Green Bay, said he and his teammates had "no idea" what was happening after Hoffner was escorted from the practice field last Friday by school officials.
"I always thought he was well-respected," he said before Wednesday's afternoon practice.
Despite the publicity, Wendricks echoed Keen's comments, saying he and his teammates are doing their best to "just put it behind us. We are working through it and focusing on what we need to focus on to get ready for the season."