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Child Porn and Racketeering Trial Begins for Survivor's Michael Skupin: 'I'm About to Fight For My Life'

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Michael Skupin
CBS/Getty

Michael Skupin is finally getting his day in court after his February arrest on child pornography and racketeering charges.

The two-time Survivor contestant reported to court on Thursday morning for his criminal trial, in which he faces 11 criminal charges stemming from an investigation by the Michigan attorney general.

According to the attorney general, the investigation began when a woman alleged on the local news that she was a victim of a gifting scheme. She said that she invested in Pay It Forward, in which her donations cycled through a chart of investors, until she was paid by new investors’ money. Other alleged victims came forward, claiming they had also paid cash into the program.

During law enforcement’s investigation into Skupin, they allege they discovered six thumbnail images of child pornography on his computer.

“Not only did this man rob people of their hard earned savings with his financial scams but he victimized innocent children every time he looked at a piece of child pornography,” Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said in a previous statement. “This man seems to have no concept or caring for right and wrong and will be prosecuted under the full extent of the law for these horrific crimes.”

But Skupin, 54, has always maintained his innocence. He says in an exclusive statement to PEOPLE that the computer was used by multiple people. He also tells PEOPLE that the images are not date stamped, so it is unclear when, exactly, they were accessed — or if they were accessed at all.

Skupin also says that the investment scheme was not fraudulent – and that he has the evidence to back up his claims in court.

Skupin tells PEOPLE that because of the sensitive nature of the case, his statement to PEOPLE will be the only statement he releases until the trial is over.

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Below is his statement in its entirety.

This has been the longest, hardest, and most arduous 10 months of my entire life. Nothing compares to it. Family and friends have both shown up in a big way or have left my life completely.  I have witnessed a level of love I never thought possible – and also a level of judgement and abandonment that I never knew existed.

I am an ordinary man who raised 7 children financially, emotionally, spiritually, educationally, morally and to the best of my ability. I would never ever even consider doing what I’ve been accused of and I’m prayerfully optimistic that the evidence laid before the jury will show that beyond a doubt.

I was accused of something that was found on one of 18 work computers that hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people had access to over dozens of years, even while I was traveling.

I’m about to fight for my life and for my freedom in a very broken court system. I’ll be put in front of a jury of 12 people with no legal experience that I’ve never met before and they’ll largely decide on what the rest of my life looks like.

I’ve learned that our justice system is not about “justice” or who’s right or wrong, it’s simply about who the jury believes more and that’s who ultimately wins.

Sadly our justice system has turned into a game of winning vs. losing instead of what’s right, wrong, just, or moral.

Whether you are innocent or guilty, it is an incredibly awful place to be and people will judge you based on media reports and bias, not on the truth or the facts – and your life will be changed forever.

I’ve never had a deeper faith in my God and my Creator, and I trust that He has my back regardless of the outcome. 

Thanks again to all of you who never stopped believing in me.

Pray to God that you are never involved in “the system.”

Skupin first appeared on Survivor: The Australian Outback in 2001, where he became the first person to be medically evacuated from the reality show after he fell into a fire and severely burned his hands. In 2012, he competed on Survivor: Philippines, tying for second place with Lisa Whelchel.

Jury selection begins on Thursday morning, and testimony is expected to continue into next week.