Former petting zoo owner pleads guilty to 23 sex crime charges

Michael Sorenson, shown leaving the Fredericton courthouse after a previous appearance, pleaded guilty to 23 charges on Friday. (Ed Hunter/CBC - image credit)
Michael Sorenson, shown leaving the Fredericton courthouse after a previous appearance, pleaded guilty to 23 charges on Friday. (Ed Hunter/CBC - image credit)

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

A Fredericton-area man has admitted to sex crimes involving 17 victims over several years across New Brunswick.

Michael Sorenson, 39, of Noonan pleaded guilty to 23 of the 33 charges he was facing during a court appearance in Fredericton provincial court Friday. The other 10 charges were withdrawn by the Crown.

He pleaded guilty to charges of making child pornography, voyeurism, possessing child pornography, invitation to sexual touching, sexual assault and sexual exploitation.

Crown prosecutor Karen Lee gave Judge Scott Brittain an agreed statement of facts that were not read out loud in court.

Brittain had Sorenson confirm he was pleading guilty and that he would no longer have a trial, which was going to take place this month.

Sorenson, in a low voice, answered "yes" to the judge's questions.

"The court is in a position to accept his pleas of guilty — by my count  — of 23 charges," Brittain said after reviewing the 12-page agreed statement of facts.

Teens worked for Sorenson

The agreed facts lay out a series of crimes involving boys between the ages of 14 and 18.

Some of the victims worked for Sorenson's petting zoo that travelled the province, while others worked for his landscaping company.

The investigation began with a tip to police in 2019 that said Sorenson would host parties for teenage boys where he would get them drunk and dare them to do various acts while they were naked and being recorded.

The person who submitted the tip told police he was 15 when he began to work for Sorenson's petting zoo and tree-cutting company during the summer of 2014.

At one point, the victim said Sorenson asked him "If someone had a million dollars would you let someone take pictures of you, like an old man, and he could have them but couldn't give them to anyone?"

The statement of facts says Sorenson would play truth or dare games that started out mundane and became increasingly risky.

In the case of the victim, the statement of facts says Sorenson dared the boy to masturbate in front of him while Sorenson held a camera he claimed was off.

The victim said it happened only once, but he went to police because he believed Sorenson did similar things with the other teenagers he hired.

'Numerous' images and videos found

A police search in 2020 resulted in police seizing USB drives and an SD card. There were about 200 file folders found labelled with people's names with "numerous" images or videos of young naked males masturbating.

The statement says "many" of the people in the images contacted by police did not want to pursue charges or provide a statement.

Many of the videos showed a green sofa that appeared to match one in Sorenson's bedroom.

Numerous other videos and images showed naked males standing on a donkey while Sorenson held a leash.

According to the facts Sorenson admitted, a 16-year-old was dared to stand naked on a donkey for 30 seconds in exchange for $1,000, unaware he was being recorded.

Hidden-camera recordings

Sorenson filmed one boy who was 16 or 17 under the guise of casting for an adult entertainment company.

Some were videos of teenagers who worked for Sorenson's petting zoo showering after cleaning animal stalls.

Others were secretly recorded in hotel rooms, including one showing an 18-year-old boy having sex with a 17-year-old girl.

The videos were recorded in various locations, including Sorenson's parents' farm where he kept his animals, his home and hotels in Saint John, Miramichi and Halifax.

Sentencing in July

A publication ban prohibits reporting anything that could identify the victims, and Lee said the Crown has taken various steps to make the victims as anonymous as possible.

Lee said there will be a joint sentencing recommendation from the Crown and Sorenson's lawyer, T.J. Burke, though didn't say how many years they will be seeking.

Burke declined to comment outside the courthouse on Friday.

Sorenson remains free on bail pending sentencing scheduled for July 21.