Two Northland residents have received long prison sentences after pleading guilty to charges involving the sexual abuse of a minor and production of child pornography.
Matthew James Gunderson, 31, of Sturgeon Lake, was ordered to serve 30 years, while Amanda May Walsh, 39, of Aitkin, was sentenced to 19 years in federal prison.
U.S. District Judge Patrick Schiltz also ordered each to serve 10 years of supervised release following their prison terms, and both may be subject to sex offender requirements for the rest of their lives.
Court documents state that Gunderson admitted to assaulting a preteen girl at a Carlton County hotel in early 2019. The victim was known to both Gunderson and Walsh, who was present at the time and was said to have aided and abetted the crime by "encouraging or directing" Gunderson.
Walsh was also accused of producing pornographic photographs of the same girl and sharing those images with Gunderson.
The Aitkin County Sheriff's Office first began investigating the case in February 2019, when a third party reported the discovery of suspected child pornography on a phone Walsh was known to use, according to court documents. Investigators found several nude images of the girl in various positions, authorities said, and it was discovered that Gunderson had sent numerous sexually explicit text messages to the victim.
In an interview, the victim told investigators that Walsh had forced her to pose naked while she took the photographs. Walsh then sent the photographs to Gunderson, the girl reported. In other communications, authorities said Gunderson sent the girl a nude photograph of a prepubescent boy.
The investigation led to evidence of the alleged sexual assault in Carlton County. Authorities said the incident occurred while Gunderson, Walsh and the girl stayed at Black Bear Casino Resort in Carlton on the night of Jan. 31. Gunderson allegedly admitted to the assault after investigators executed a search warrant at his residence on March 1.
A federal prosecutor told a judge in July 2019 that investigators had positively identified the girl and a boy who were victimized. The attorney said images of two other young girls were also found on devices belonging to Gunderson, but investigators at that point had been unable to positively identify the children and determine whether the images were produced by the defendant.
Gunderson pleaded guilty in federal court last July to two counts of production and attempted production of child pornography, while Walsh pleaded guilty that same month to one count of the same charge.
Gunderson received his sentence May 20 in St. Paul, while Walsh appeared Wednesday.
A first-degree criminal sexual conduct charge filed against Gunderson in State District Court in Carlton County was dismissed as a result of the federal sentence.
Walsh also has been facing a number of charges in Carlton and Aitkin counties, including first-degree criminal sexual conduct and numerous child pornography-related offenses. Those cases remained pending as of Thursday.
Authorities said the case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative to combat a "growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse." Launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice, the project coordinates federal, state and local resources to better locate, apprehend and prosecute child exploitation suspects, as well as identify and rescue victims.