Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Mark Berndt: Teacher Accused of Playing Sex Games with Kids

Bad Teacher?

Mark Berndt booking photo
Mark Berndt booking photo

A Los Angeles elementary school teacher accused of playing weird sex games with unsuspecting kids might have gone undiscovered if it weren't for an old-fashioned habit: In an age when many people shoot digital photos print them out themselves or just leave them on the computer, Mark Berndt allegedly brought 35-mm film photos of bound and gagged kids to a drugstore to be developed.

Now Berndt is being held on 23 counts of lewd conduct. He's pleaded not guilty through court-appointed lawyer Victor Acevedo. Unable to make the $23 million dollar bail — one million for each of the children he allegedly tied up or fed cockroaches or semen — Berndt is being kept away from the general jail population for his own safety.

The Los Angeles Unified School District has fired Berndt — but still pays the former Miramonte Elementary teacher nearly $4,000 a month on top of the $40,000 that convinced him to leave quietly. As reports of Berndt's alleged creepy predilections and the continuing payouts make the news and other area teachers are accused of predatory behavior, a scandal has developed, forcing LA Unified to reconsider how it responds to teacher misconduct — and disrupting the lives of Miramonte's 85 teachers and 1,400 students.

Photos Tell a Sickening Story

Mark Berndt, now 61, started teaching at Miramonte Elementary in 1979. He lived most of this time in a Torrance apartment complex he owns with his sister.

The K-6 school is in Florence-Firestone, an unincorporated area south of downtown Los Angeles. 98% of the school's students are Latino, many the children of Mexican and Central American immigrants. Florence-Firestone is a low-income neighborhood: All of the school's students are eligible for reduced-price or free lunches.

The school's standardized test performance has been poor. But it has some devoted teachers, dedicated to helping kids succeed.

Mark Berndt might have seemed to be one of the good ones. Many of his students and their parents kept in touch long after the kids graduated. They'd later tell reporters about the games he led in class to "reward" his students, and they'd recall the quiet, solitary man's blue Volkswagen Beetle, and his love of classical music and the Mojave Desert and camping.

But reports that he'd drive his favorite students to the desert in that blue VW bug now take on an ominous ring. And the classroom games are looking to be something truly disturbing.

And it's all thanks to an anonymous photo-processor.

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