A former teacher at the Gilman School who’s accused of sexually abusing a student will remain incarcerated while he awaits trial on new federal charges, a judge ruled on Monday, as prosecutors alleged that three more young men have come forward with allegations and that investigators have yet to review as many as hundreds of other images.
Chris Bendann, 39, of Towson, worked at the private, independent all-boys school in Roland Park in Baltimore from 2007-2023. He was indicted last week in U.S. District Court in Baltimore on five counts of sexual exploitation of a child and one count of possession of child pornography.
Though Bendann had been out for six months in the state case, U.S. Magistrate Judge J. Mark Coulson said at a detention hearing, it’s “not quite an apples-to-apples comparison.” Bendann, he noted, now faces mandatory minimum sentences of 15 years in prison on each count of sexual exploitation of a child, if he’s convicted, as well as the fact that the government asserts it has recovered videos that corroborate the initial allegations.
“I do think the case is quite differently postured,” Coulson said. “I am going to detain you pending your trial in this case,” he later added.
In a letter dated Jan. 20, Gilman Head of School Henry P.A. Smyth reported that it fired Bendann after learning of “several instances of inappropriate contact” with students off school property. Law enforcement searched his home and arrested him on Feb. 3.
The FBI later obtained a search warrant for the electronic devices that investigators seized in the raid. Bendann’s legal team filed an emergency motion to appoint a judicial official to filter attorney-client privileged and work product information under seal, and both sides litigated for months.
Investigators resumed searching the electronic devices on Aug. 10, and a grand jury returned the six-count indictment on Aug. 16.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Colleen McGuinn asked the judge to detain Bendann until trial and described in detail five videos of sexual abuse she reported that investigators recovered from his iCloud account.
The videos, she said, were found in a folder that indicates that Bendann deleted them. McGuinn alleged that was an attempt to obstruct justice.
The young man, she said, is clearly under 18 in the videos. Law enforcement has yet to review “dozens and dozens and probably hundreds of images,” McGuinn said.
In a memorandum in support of pretrial detention, McGuinn wrote that Bendann victimized the young man, recorded videos of the sexual abuse and extorted him into early adulthood by threatening to publish the images.
Bendann, she said, referred to him with the demeaning name of “puppy” in text messages as recent as 2022.
McGuinn outlined in the court documents how three additional young men have come forward and reported that Bendann sexually abused them:
One reported that Bendann dragged him into the shower five years ago when he was about 16 after he’d gotten drunk and had been going in and out of consciousness. Bendann then started performing oral sex on the teen and having sex with him when he was not able to consent.
Another reported that Bendann gave him a ride back to his parents’ home when he was 15 and had been out drinking. After he ate food that Bendann made him, he “blacked out” and woke up “naked on his own bed with only the living room blanket covering his genitals.
Bendann told the teen that he had been “sleep-walking and sleep-dancing” and “taking off all his clothes.” So Bendann stated that he wrapped the blanket around him and brought the young man to his room.
And yet another reported he had been drinking at a graduation party while Bendann housesat at his parents’ home.
The young man went to bed in his room. But when he woke up, he was “naked on the couch on the lower level of his home.”
“Those disclosures have been made and are being investigated by our law enforcement partners,” McGuinn said.
The administration at the Gilman School, she said, also received multiple phone calls from parents who alleged that Bendann supplied their children with alcohol and then had them run laps naked at Meadowood Regional Park as compensation.
One student reported that Bendann would ask for naked or seminude photos for getting them alcohol or other items. McGuinn attached a screenshot of one conversation in which she asserts that Bendann wrote, “If you don’t want to run outside you can just do the picture from in a bathroom or something. Same deal as last time.”
McGuinn took issue with how Bendann put out a statement on social media and held a news conference on the steps of the Baltimore County Courts Building to profess his innocence, describing those efforts as “nothing short of gaslighting.”
That’s because Bendann knew he recorded videos of sexual abuse, McGuinn said, but thought that he had successfully deleted them.
“He is in fact a danger to children,” McGuinn said. “And he needs to be detained pretrial.”
But Kobie Flowers, Bendann’s attorney, accused the government of not playing fair and abusing its power in using a SWAT team for a second time to arrest his client.
“This case has now gone on for six months,” Flowers said. “Mr. Bendann has shown up to every single court hearing for six months.”
The government, he said, knew that his client was on 24/7 lockdown and had counsel. Former President Donald Trump was allowed to turn himself in on racketeer influenced and corrupt organizations charges, Flowers noted.
Even if his client is incarcerated for one day, Flowers said, his life is in danger. Baltimore County Circuit Judge Jan Marshall Alexander previously heard argument and released him from custody.
Bendann has always been aware of the severity and gravity of the allegations, Flowers said. He noted that his client is presumed innocent and pointed out how six people came out to court to show their support.
“He has no criminal record,” Flowers said. “He has done nothing violent, ever.”
Flowers said his client suffered a heart attack at home as a result of the stress and pressure of the allegations. The threat of a SWAT team coming for a third time to arrest him, he said, is an “incredible deterrent.”
Next, Coulson arraigned Bendann on the new charges.
“What is your plea?” a court clerk asked.
“Not guilty,” Bendann replied.
Outside the Edward A. Garmatz U.S. Courthouse in Baltimore, Steven Silverman, an attorney representing several young men who’ve reported that Bendann sexually abused them, said it takes a tremendous amount of courage to come forward.
Silverman said his clients and their families have been struggling but have shown a “tremendous amount of perseverance” and are “heroes in our community by having the courage to do what they did.”
“As they say, a picture speaks a thousand words,” Silverman said. “And for all intents and purposes, this case is over because of those videos.”