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LDS seminary principal is arrested in sexual abuse

Michael J. Pratt
Michael J. Pratt
Utah County Jail

PROVO — Police arrested an LDS seminary principal Thursday after they say he spent several months grooming a 16-year-old student for a sexual relationship.

Michael J. Pratt, 37, of Orem, was working as a principal at Lone Peak High School's LDS seminary program where the girl was a student, according to LDS Church spokeswoman Kim Farah.

"(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) condemns abuse of any kind and expects the highest moral and ethical standards of its seminary employees," Farah said. "The church terminated Michael Pratt's employment as soon as allegations surfaced and immediately reported the matter to law enforcement."

Police say Pratt checked the girl out of school without her parents' knowledge at least three times and took her up Provo Canyon to Bridal Veil Falls, where he touched her breasts and genital area and kissed her, according to the affidavit. Police say the incidents happened in a boxcar next to Vivian Park.

The actions grew to include more sex acts at various times and in different locations around the county, including a ravine next to the girl's home, an unoccupied home in her neighborhood, the boxcar in Provo Canyon, Rock Canyon, a mine in Eureka and Warm Springs near Goshen, where they were observed skinny-dipping, police said.

The abuse began around May and continued until recently, when information was given to the Utah Division of Child and Family Services, which contacted law enforcement.

Police discovered hundreds of text messages, several of which were sexually explicit and included references to genitalia. Police are in the process of obtaining a warrant to gather the exact content of the messages, said Utah County Sheriff's Sgt. Matt Higley of the Utah Valley Special Victims Task Force.

Higley said the acts were consensual. Pratt, who is married and has children, has no prior criminal record, Higley said. There is also no indication of other victims.

"When these types of things occur, we anticipate multiple victims," Higley said. "But at this time, we don't have information about any other victims."

Police said the girl would not be considered a troubled teen.

"It's just sad that when an adult is placed in a position of trust, (situations occur) where families are hurt," Higley said. "It's never a good situation."

Pratt was booked into the Utah County Jail for investigation of aggravated kidnapping, unlawful sexual conduct with a 16- or 17-year-old, aggravated forcible sex abuse, forcible sodomy, object rape, lewdness, burglary, criminal trespassing, contributing to the delinquency of a minor and enticing a minor. A judge set bail Friday at $20,000 cash only. Pratt is scheduled to be in 4th District Court at 8:30 a.m. Monday.

"Our hearts go out to the victim and family members," Farah said. "Counseling and other resources have been offered to help the victim in the healing process."

Another student wrote on his MySpace page that "Michael J. Pratt" is one of his heroes. "He is the best seminary teacher and friend you could ever ask for."

Pratt was called in to talk with detectives Thursday and immediately invoked his right to an attorney.

Higley reminded parents to "keep an open relationship" with their children. "Love them, support them, make sure you know who they are with."