FBI arrests U of M professor accused of child exploitation

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An associate professor at the University of Minnesota was arrested Friday in connection with offenses pertaining to child exploitation, the FBI said.

An arrest warrant for Woody Dale Branton, 62, was issued out of the Western District of Louisiana; he was taken into custody without incident at his home in Minneapolis' Prospect Park neighborhood.

MPR reports court documents list charges against Branton as "Enticing a minor to engage in sexually explicit conduct" and "Production of child pornography." He appeared in federal district court in St. Paul Friday and will remain in custody for a detention and removal hearing. That's scheduled for March 12 at a St. Paul courthouse, MPR says.

KSTP spoke with the mother of the alleged victim, who says Branton "coerced" her 15-year-old daughter into sending "nearly-nude" photos of herself, and also discussed sexual acts with her. The mother describes him as a longtime family friend turned predator, the station reports.

The station also approached Branton at his home before he was arrested, bringing with them a printed copy of a sexually explicit chat he is accused to have had with the teenager. He took the document and did not offer comment.

Branton has been employed at the U of M since 1988 and is an associate professor in the Department of Neuroscience. According to the Star Tribune a school spokesman says Branton was not scheduled to teach this semester, and the university is reviewing his status after being made aware of the charges.

A university webpage says Branton's research involves molecular and cellular transmissions and signaling mechanisms that involve calcium.

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