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Grand Rapids attorney charged with raping 2 more women

The alleged victims said they had "buried" their experiences, but were inspired to come forward after two other women recently spoke to police about the conduct of Jesse Powell.

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DULUTH — Two additional women have come forward to report that they were raped by a Grand Rapids attorney.

An amended criminal complaint was filed Thursday in State District Court against Jesse Robert Powell, who now faces nine charges stemming from an alleged pattern of sexual misconduct toward four women he had either represented or known socially.

Jesse Robert Powell
Jesse Robert Powell

“We each kept what our attorney Jesse Powell did to us buried," the newly identified women said in a statement issued through a victims' advocate. "But, because of the courage of the other victims speaking up, we each came to know that we needed to come forward. We both thought we were the only one he did this to."

Powell, 32, was first charged on Dec. 20 with five crimes after two former clients detailed a series of sexual comments, unwanted touching and, in one case, an alleged rape during private meetings about their cases. He missed an initial court appearance and was briefly jailed on the charges in January.

The amended complaint states that the additional victims decided to come forward after seeing news coverage of the case, telling an Aitkin County Sheriff's Office investigator that they were repeatedly assaulted by Powell.

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The attorney sat for an interview with police in January, denying that he ever engaged in nonconsensual sexual conduct with any of the women, the complaint states.

According to the new charges:

One of the women had hired Powell in June to represent her in a child custody dispute. She said he came to her workplace July 2 to pick up some paperwork and ended up kissing her and putting his hand up her dress without her consent.

When the woman went to Powell's office for a Zoom hearing days later, the attorney partially undressed her and raped her, the victim reported. She said he continued to caress her thigh under the table during the hearing and at a subsequent meeting with her ex-husband and his lawyer.

The woman reported that Powell again sexually assaulted her when he came to her workplace in September and when she went to his office in October. The complaint states that she told the investigator "she knew he was going to do it and she just wanted it over; she needed a lawyer for the hearing."

Jesse Powell is facing five counts of criminal sexual conduct for alleged actions toward two women as other potential victims are being asked to come forward.

The other victim stated she had known Powell casually through her work at various businesses in town before she accepted an invitation to his home near Bigfork around February 2020. She said she arrived at the secluded home and Powell, appearing angry and smelling of alcohol, quickly shoved her into a bedroom and raped her.

The victim said she left as quickly as she could, spending no more than 25 minutes at the home, and that she then cut off contact with him. But she reached out to him again in June 2020, hoping to take him up on a promise of free legal advice after she purchased a vehicle that ended up having mechanical issues.

During a series of law office visits extending into spring 2021, the woman reported that Powell would sometimes touch himself or bring her into the bathroom and force her to engage in sexual acts. She "felt she had no choice" but to comply and only returned to the office because she thought he was helping with her vehicle situation.

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The woman told police she cut off ties with him in September, as he had "become more sexually aggressive." She reported that Powell ended up coming to her workplace in November and tried to force her into a private room, but she resisted.

Powell, in his Jan. 14 statement to police, allegedly acknowledged that he had engaged in some behavior that was "not normal or appropriate" between an attorney and client.

He admitted to having sexual intercourse with one of the clients on at least one occasion but maintained there was "not one ounce of force." He denied or said he did not recall most other circumstances alleged in the complaint, saying he "does not touch people who do not want to be touched."

"Powell stated that he has lost everything and every time he does a web search on his name, the allegations appear that he is a rapist," the complaint notes."Investigator (Steve) Cook asked Powell if he was a rapist, and Powell responded that he never forced anyone to have sex with him."

Powell now faces four felony counts of third-degree criminal sexual conduct, four gross misdemeanor counts of fifth-degree criminal sexual conduct and one misdemeanor count of disorderly conduct.

The case is being prosecuted by Pine County Attorney Reese Frederickson. Powell, who has not retained an attorney, is scheduled for his next hearing March 14 before Judge Annie Claesson-Huseby, of Bemidji.

"If others have been victimized by him, we encourage you to come forward," the alleged victims said in their statement. "We know it is hard to talk about it but what we know now is that it is harder to keep it buried. If you decide to come forward, you will not be alone. You would have our support.”

Tom Olsen has covered crime and courts for the Duluth News Tribune since 2013. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth and a lifelong resident of the city. Readers can contact Olsen at 218-723-5333 or tolsen@duluthnews.com.
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