A former Los Angeles teacher accused in a sickening child abuse scandal is being held in lieu of $23 million bail.
Mark Berndt, 61, is charged with committing lewd acts against 23 boys and girls, ages 7 to 10. More charges may be coming, as five more alleged victims have stepped forward, the Los Angeles Times reports.
Berndt allegedly made students play a "tasting game" while blindfolded in his class at Los Angeles' Miramonte Elementary School, the Times reports. The "game" allegedly involved feeding children his semen.
Mark Berndt asked his blindfolded students if what they tasted was salty or sweet, police told the Times. The teacher also took photos of his alleged child abuse: Some pictures show kids gagged with tape, while others show children with cockroaches crawling on their faces.
An alert worker at a drug-store photo lab noticed the disturbing pictures after developing them, and turned them over to police more than a year ago, the Associated Press reports. Investigators seized about 400 photos at Berndt's home and at the photo lab.
Berndt was fired in January 2011, and police began to investigate the teacher's alleged child abuse. They arrested Berndt on Monday.
Some parents questioned why school administrators didn't go public sooner about Berndt's alleged child abuse. Berndt could have been arrested on misdemeanor charges when the investigation began, but investigators wanted to build a stronger felony case, a sheriff's spokesman told the Associated Press.
Berndt has no prior arrest record. But in California, committing lewd acts on a child 14 or younger constitutes a sex crime. Even if a child consents to the lewd acts, that is not a defense to the crime, a 2008 California Supreme Court ruling held.
Berndt could face life in prison if convicted, according to the AP.
Police fear the number of teacher Mark Berndt's alleged child-abuse victims may be much higher. Berndt began teaching at Miramonte Elementary School in 1979, the AP reports.