LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A former Los Angeles area teacher accused of taking bondage-style photos of students, some with cockroaches on their faces, was ordered held on $23 million bail on Wednesday as authorities said more possible victims had come forward.
Mark Berndt, 61, was arrested on Monday and charged with 23 counts of lewd acts on children following a year-long investigation that began when photos showing blindfolded and gagged students in classrooms were turned over to police.
Berndt made a brief appearance in Los Angeles Superior Court on Wednesday, dressed in a jail uniform. A judge ordered him held in lieu of $23 million bail and postponed his arraignment until February 21.
More potential accusers came forward a since Berndt’s arrest, a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department spokesman said.
“They may be victims and they may not be, we don’t know until we do a comprehensive (investigation),” Sgt. Dan Scott said.
An attorney for the Los Angeles Public Defender’s office, which has been appointed to represent Berndt, could not be reached for comment.
Authorities say the investigation began more than a year ago when a film processor gave police the pictures, some of which showed Berndt with his arm around the children or with his hand over their mouths.
Investigators discovered a total of 390 photos, and about 10 of the children depicted in the photos have not been identified, the Sheriff’s Department has said.
In some cases, children were pictured with large, live “Madagascar-type” cockroaches on their faces and mouths, the Sheriff’s department has said.
Investigators also recovered a DVD from Berndt’s home depicting adult sexual bondage activity that mirrored the bondage-type photos of the children, Sheriff’s officials said.
The images in that video are legal.
Berndt taught at Miramonte Elementary School in the Florence area of Los Angeles County for more than 30 years.
Berndt, who taught third-grade, was fired by the Los Angeles Unified School District in January of 2011, shortly after the investigation began, authorities said.
Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Daniel Trotta