Former petting zoo owner facing 32 sex crime charges expected to plead guilty

Former petting zoo owner Michael Sorenson shown leaving the Fredericton provincial court last year. (Ed Hunter/CBC - image credit)
Former petting zoo owner Michael Sorenson shown leaving the Fredericton provincial court last year. (Ed Hunter/CBC - image credit)

A former Fredericton-area petting zoo owner is expected to plead guilty next month to some of the more than two dozen sex crime charges he faces, his lawyer indicated Thursday.

Michael Sorenson of Noonan was arrested and charged in 2021 with 12 counts of voyeurism, 10 counts of making child pornography, three counts of sexual exploitation, three counts of possession of child pornography, two counts of invitation to sexual touching, and one count each of sexual interference and sexual assault.

Sorenson previously pleaded not guilty. A trial was set to begin next month.

Sorenson appeared by phone in Fredericton provincial court Thursday morning.

"We have all of these matters resolved," defence lawyer T.J. Burke told provincial court Judge Natalie LeBlanc.

Burke didn't say what charges Sorenson may plead guilty to and declined an interview following the court appearance.

New charge coming

Burke said they would use one of the trial days to instead plead to the charges. The judge set the pleas for Feb. 24.

Crown prosecutor Karen Lee said an agreed statement of facts would likely be read to the judge.

"The facts in this matter will be lengthy," Lee said, telling the judge they'd likely need a half-day in court.

Lee said a new charge against Sorenson is expected to be laid in Saint John in the coming days, which will be among the charges dealt with next month.

Lee said last year that there were 16 alleged victims. A publication ban has been imposed on the victims' identities.

The Crown's office will be discussing the development with victims in the case and how they may want to participate.

Lee said some may appear remotely, so they don't have to come to court in person and can maintain anonymity.

The lawyers said they intend to provide a joint sentencing recommendation to the judge.

Sorenson said little during the appearance, only confirming he understood what was taking place.

Allegations span years, police say

The crimes allegedly occurred between 2008 and 2020 across New Brunswick.

RCMP have previously said Sorenson owned a petting zoo in Noonan until 2020 and would travel across the province to different events, hiring local people, who stayed at hotels with him.

Police said a tip prompted the investigation that began in February 2019. Police executed a search warrant in June 2020 at a home on Route 10 in Noonan, just east of Fredericton.

RCMP announced charges against Sorenson in July 2021.