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Teacher charged with molesting kids

The Miramonte Elementary school's principal, Martin Sandoval walks out to address the media outside his school in Los Angeles on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2012. Veteran Miramontes Elementary school teacher Mark Berndt, 61, was arrested on charges of lewd conduct with 23 children after a film processor gave police photos showing blindfolded children with their mouths taped and cockroaches on their faces. Berndt, 61, not seen, was arrested Jan. 30, 2012 and remained jailed Tuesday on $2.3 million bail. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

The Miramonte Elementary school's principal, Martin Sandoval walks out to address the media outside his school in Los Angeles on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2012. Veteran Miramontes Elementary school teacher Mark Berndt, 61, was arrested on charges of lewd conduct with 23 children after a film processor gave police photos showing blindfolded children with their mouths taped and cockroaches on their faces. Berndt, 61, not seen, was arrested Jan. 30, 2012 and remained jailed Tuesday on $2.3 million bail. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

LOS ANGELES -- A veteran elementary school teacher was arrested on horrifying child molestation charges after a film processor gave police photos showing blindfolded children with their mouths taped and cockroaches on their faces, authorities said Tuesday.

Mark Berndt, 61, was arrested Monday at his Torrance home and remained jailed on $2.3 million bail, according to a Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department statement.

The charges involve 23 boys and girls ages 6 to 10 between 2008 and 2010.

The investigation started when the film processor gave authorities some 40 photographs depicting blindfolded children in a classroom with their mouths taped shut.

Berndt worked for more than 30 years at Miramonte Elementary School in an unincorporated area of South Los Angeles before being fired as a result of the investigation. Miramonte serves a poor, mainly Hispanic neighborhood. More than half of its approximately 1,400 students are still learning English, according to the school's website.

Some of the photos showed Berndt with his arm around children or with his hand over their mouth.

Other pictures depicted girls with what appears to be a spoon up to their mouths as if they were going to ingest a clear-white liquid.

Authorities are recommending the children be tested for sexually transmitted diseases.

Some of the children's mouths and faces had large, live Madagascar-type cockroaches on them, according to the statement.

The incidents occurred during school hours but not all the children were students of Berndt, Marquez said.

None of the alleged victims told anyone about the incidents and photos, Marquez said.

"They didn't know they were being violated in that manner. They just thought it was a game," Marquez said.

Berndt is unmarried, has no children and there's no indication of a previous arrest record, authorities said.

"I am sickened and horrified by the behavior of Mark Berndt," Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent John Deasy said in a statement.

The teacher was immediately removed when the Sheriff's Department informed the district, and he was fired, Deasy said.

More than 80 current and former students and school employees were interviewed for the investigation.

Searches of the classroom and Berndt's home turned up about 390 photographs depicting children, and at least 10 youngsters in them have not yet been identified, Marquez said.

In addition, A DVD depicting adult sexual bondage activity "which mirrored the bondage-type photos of the children" was also found during the search, the department said, noting that the adults in that video were not identified and those images are not a crime.