Minnesota Professor Pleads Guilty to Enticing a Louisiana Minor to Engage in Sexual Activity
MONROE, LA—A Minnesota professor pleaded guilty to contacting a minor in Union Parish in order to start a sexual relationship, U.S. Attorney Stephanie A. Finley announced today.
Woody Dale Branton, 63, of Minneapolis, Minn., entered a conditional guilty plea before U.S. Magistrate Judge Karen L. Hayes for one count of enticing a minor into criminal sexual activity. The plea will become final when accepted by U.S. District Court Judge Robert G. James. According to evidence presented at the guilty plea, Branton, a professor at the University of Minnesota, and a 15-year-old girl exchanged thousands of messages on Facebook from October 2013 through December 1, 2013. Many of the messages were sexual in nature, and he also asked her to send explicit pictures of herself. From November 29, 2013 to December 1, 2013, Branton attempted to set up a meeting with the girl in Louisiana and purchased a plane ticket to Shreveport.
Branton faces 10 years to life in prison, up to five years of supervised release, and a fine of up to $250,000. He must also register as a sex offender. A sentencing date of January 5, 2015 was set.
The FBI and the Union Parish Sheriff’s Office investigated the case. Assistant U.S. Attorney Seth D. Reeg is prosecuting the case.
This case is part of Project Safe Childhood, a U.S. Department of Justice nationwide initiative to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse. Led by U.S. Attorneys’ Offices and the Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state and local resources to better locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the Internet, as well as to identify and rescue victims. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, visit www.projectsafechildhood.gov.
Those concerned may also leave tips with the FBI at tips.fbi.gov. Tips may be submitted anonymously. The Monroe FBI office number is (318) 387-0773.