Bail was raised to $23 million Wednesday for a former Los Angeles teacher accused of taking bizarre photos of children in his classroom for sexual thrill.
Mark Berndt, 61, appeared in court to face allegations of committing lewd acts involving 23 boys and girls, ages 6 to 10. He could face life in prison if convicted.
His bail was raised from $2.3 million at the request of prosecutors, and his arraignment was delayed to Feb. 21.
Berndt has hired a lawyer and has made no statements to authorities, said Los Angeles County sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore. He was arrested Monday.
The investigation began when a film processor found Berndt's photos more than a year ago. Since the discovery, the school district fired Berndt and police put him under surveillance.
"If it wasn't for the film processor, this could still be continuing today," said sheriff's Lt. Carlos Marquez.
Some parents have asked why officials at the school in South Los Angeles didn't tell them once the photos were found.
"My concern is why, if the principal knew this in advance, why didn't he inform us?" said Gloria Polanco. "How long has he been doing this?"
The charges against Berndt are for the period between 2008 and 2010. The probe began after the film processor, who is required by state law to report suspicions of child abuse and molestation, turned over some 40 photographs to authorities.
About 400 photos were found at Berndt's home and at the photo lab during searches. It's not clear how many children were pictured. At least 10 have not yet been identified.
Some photos showed Berndt with his arm around children or his hand over their mouths. Some photos showed children with live bugs the size of hissing cockroaches on their mouths or faces.
Others depicted girls with what appears to be a spoon up to their mouths as if they were going to ingest a clear-white liquid. Children were fed Berndt's semen from a spoon or on cookies, Marquez said.
Kids reported being fed something distasteful. A blue plastic spoon and container found in the trash in his classroom tested positive for his semen, authorities said.
Police recommended the children in the photos be tested for sexually transmitted diseases. There may be more victims given the length of time that Berndt taught at the school, Marquez said.
Authorities could have arrested Berndt on misdemeanor charges when the investigation began but chose to build a stronger felony case, Marquez said.
At first, neither the parents nor the children believed they had been molested, so there wasn't much reaction, according to Whitmore. It was only after the matter of the semen was raised that they became alarmed.
Berndt, who has no previous arrest record, was placed under surveillance. The childless bachelor lives a few blocks from two parks and an elementary school.
The incidents occurred during school hours but not all the children were his students, Marquez said.
"The reason some of the kids are not his students, per se, is that during the lunch breaks or recess, he'd go out to the playground and entice them back to the classroom," Marquez said.
"They didn't know they were being violated in that manner," he said. "They just thought it was a game."
Berndt was a teaching assistant in the Los Angeles Unified School District in 1976 and 1977 and he began teaching at Miramonte in 1979, according to a district work history obtained by the Los Angeles Times.
Berndt had no disciplinary actions on file, according to the document.
Miramonte Principal Martin Sandoval said he wanted to express his sympathy to the children's families.
Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent John Deasy said in a statement that he was notified of the investigation last January and removed Berndt from the classroom the same day. The school board fired him, he said.
"My children won't be coming back here," said Kimberly Kirklin, whose daughter was in Berndt's class three years ago. "He preyed on our innocents. He tainted a whole neighborhood."