Craig Lee Hollenbeck, a former Eden Prairie High School (EPHS) teacher, pleaded guilty Dec. 16 to a charge of gross misdemeanor endangerment of a child, which experts in the field refer to as child grooming. The charge stems from an inappropriate relationship Hollenbeck had with an EPHS student between Feb. 1 and June 1, 2021.
Eden Prairie Police received a report in September 2021 from a mandatory reporter about the inappropriate relationship.
Hollenbeck, 51, is charged with violating Minnesota statute 609.3781(b)(1), which states, “A parent, legal guardian, or caretaker who endangers the child’s person or health by intentionally or recklessly causing or permitting a child to be placed in a situation likely to substantially harm the child’s physical, mental, or emotional health or cause the child’s death.”
Hollenbeck appeared virtually Friday morning for his omnibus hearing before Judge Hilary L. Caliguiri in Hennepin Country District Court. Daniel B. Allard of the Hennepin County Attorney’s office is the prosecuting attorney, and John J. Leunig represents Hollenbeck.
Part of Hollenbeck’s plea agreement required him to provide details of his illegal conduct under oath.
Hollenbeck admitted to engaging in an inappropriate relationship with the 17-year-old student, that he had improper communication with that student in the form of texts, social media, and FaceTime, and that he had in-person meetings with the student that included physical contact in the form of “hugs.”
He also admitted that the communication was improper because the student is a minor, and he, as a teacher, is a “caretaker” under the law.
Caligiuri asked Hollenbeck to express in his own words what makes him guilty of the charges.
“In my role as a teacher with this particular student while she was 17, I fostered a relationship with her, and we grew to be close,” Hollenbeck said. “We had text exchanges that were inappropriate for me to have with any student or any child. We had physical affection in the form of hugs in the classroom while she was 17. It constituted a teacher fostering (a) relationship with a 17-year-old student, and I am absolutely guilty of potentially and likely causing her substantial harm.”
Under questioning from Allard, Hollenbeck acknowledged that there was a “power dynamic” between himself and the student because of their age difference and because he was a teacher.
Hollenbeck also acknowledged that the “hugs” between him and the student were not “ordinary” but “sensual” in nature.
Terms of the plea agreement discussed at the hearing include capping jail time at 30 days, or 30 days in the Sentencing to Service Program (STSP), an alternative available to the court that puts “carefully selected, nonviolent offenders” to work on community improvement projects.
Hollenbeck would be on probation for two years and be required to complete a presentence investigation (PSI) and a psychosexual evaluation and follow any recommendations. He also would be forbidden to have contact with the victim.
EPLN has not yet received a copy of the written plea agreement.
Hollenbeck’s sentencing is scheduled for March 6, 2023.
Frank Farrell contributed to this report.
We offer several ways for our readers to provide feedback. Your comments are welcome on our social media posts (Facebook, X, Instagram, Threads, and LinkedIn). We also encourage Letters to the Editor; submission guidelines can be found on our Contact Us page. If you believe this story has an error or you would like to get in touch with the author, please connect with us.