AUGUSTA — A decorated Lincoln County sheriff’s deputy preyed on girls for his own sexual gratification, Assistant Attorney General John Risler said during his opening statement in the officer’s trial in Kennebec County Superior Court on Monday.

Kenneth Hatch III is charged with 22 criminal counts that are alleged to have occurred from September 1999 until January 2014 in Lincoln County, including 11 counts of sexual abuse of a minor. Hatch has denied all of the charges. He is free on bail and remains on unpaid administrative leave from the sheriff’s office.

Hatch’s attorney, Richard Elliott, said in his opening statement that the case resulted from a false claim by one young girl who bragged that Hatch was the father of her child to show that she knew someone inside the sheriff’s office.

Elliott said a paternity test proved that Hatch was not the father of the child, adding that Hatch could not be the father because he had never had sex with the girl.

Elliott repeatedly referred to the prosecution as a “machine” and said the state generated 22 charges in hopes that it could get even a few convictions. He said the time frames of the alleged offenses are so vague that it is impossible for his client to provide alibis.

Elliott said his client does not have to testify, but that he will and he denies all the accusations.

He said Hatch is a combat veteran who saw service in Kuwait City and is a veteran law enforcement officer.

Hatch was named the sheriff’s office’s Deputy of the Year in 2015. He had previously been a detective sergeant, but was demoted in 2013 for unspecified reasons.

Elliott said the three girls listed as victims have a connection. He said a brother of one of the girls is the boyfriend of another girl listed as a victim. He said the third girl’s boyfriend had been investigated by Hatch for the boyfriend’s possible role in a plot to bomb a police station.

Risler, the prosecutor, detailed in his opening statement what witnesses would say about the sexual assaults by Hatch against the three girls. He said the victims may not be perfect, but that is why Hatch picked the girls.

Risler said Hatch’s darker side would come out soon after starting a relationship with the girls.

The sexual assaults occurred in Hatch’s cruiser, his home, and once in a cubicle at the sheriff’s office. One victim was 6 years old when the assaults began, the prosecutor said.

When that girl got older, Hatch would provide her with alcohol, cigarettes and marijuana in exchange for sex. Hatch used the marijuana as leverage to get sex, Risler said. One time, Hatch pulled over a motorist, confiscated two ounces of pot and gave that to the girl, the prosecutor said.

Justice William Stokes is presiding over the jury trial that is expected to last seven days. The 14 jurors and alternates are evenly divided between men and women.

Hatch was indicted in August 2016 in Knox County, and the case was transferred to Kennebec County for trial.

The case was investigated by Peter Lizanecz, a detective in the Office of the Maine Attorney General.

The first of the alleged victims took the stand late Monday morning. The woman, now 30 years old, said Hatch would provide her with liquor, gifts and paid for her to attend events. One gift that Hatch purchased for her was a dress for a school dance, the woman said.

A photo of the woman in the dress when she was a girl was shown to jurors.

The woman said the first incident of Hatch and her having sex was when she was a high school freshman in 2001 and Hatch had picked her up from her boyfriend’s home. The girl said Hatch was in uniform and he removed her pants and underwear and had sex with her in the back seat of the cruiser.

The second time they had sex was at his home in Whitefield. The rest of Hatch’s family was at a soccer game of one of his children, the woman said.

She said she avoided going to Hatch’s home again for a while until she was there as Hatch’s family gathered for the death of a family member. She said she went down into the basement for a smoke and he came downstairs and had sex with her.

She said the next time she had contact with Hatch was when he came to her mother’s house and questioned her about a boy she was dating who was suspected of being a gang member involved in a plot to blow up the police station in Hartford, Connecticut.

The woman said neither she nor her boyfriend were ever charged.

She said she believed Hatch made up the allegation to show her that he could protect her from being charged.

The Press Herald doesn’t identify victims of alleged sexual assaults without their consent.