Mark Berndt gets $23 million bail, $1 million for each alleged accuser

    3:15 PM, Feb 1, 2012   |    comments
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    LOS ANGELES, CA (CBS) -- The California school teacher accused of taking bizarre photos of his students was in court today. His arraignment was delayed, but the judge did rule to significantly increase bail.

    Bail is now set at $23 million for Mark Berndt; $1 million for each of his alleged victims. The former Los Angeles elementary school teacher is accused of committing lewd acts against nearly two dozen children.

    Berndt simply said , "Yes I do," when asked if he understood the charges he faces. The 61-year-old did not enter a plea.

    Police say the longtime third-grade teacher at Miramonte Elementary blindfolded students, taped their mouths shut and put live cockroaches on their faces. He also allegedly fed them bodily fluids with a spoon. Investigators say he told his victims they were playing a game.

    Sandy Gibbons, spokesperson for the LA District Attorney's Office says, "All of the allegations are that the events happened at the school, in the classroom."

    Police say the crimes date back to 2005 and the alleged victims range in age from seven to ten; none reported what was happening.

    Police launched an investigation a year ago after an employee at a photo shop followed the law and alerted authorities to questionable pictures.

    The school fired Berndt last year when they found out about the images. Mother of first grader Debra Harmon says, "It is an outrage for something like this to go on in our school undetected!"

    Police kept Berndt under surveillance and uncovered more than 400pictures that helped build their case. Officers arrested him at his home Monday.

    Investigators are trying to identify ten more children in the photographs and say there could be more victims.

    Mark Berndt faces life in prison if he's convicted. Parents at the school say they are angry no one told them about the investigation but the authorities say they had to keep the case quiet while they searched for evidence.

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