A 43-year-old Manawa man accused of bringing a 17-year-old girl to Rhinelander from Fond du Lac County for sex and prostitution avoided jail as part of a plea deal Oct. 13 in Oneida County Circuit Court.
Michael W. Johnson had faced a charge of trafficking of a child, child enticement, both felonies, and a misdemeanor charge of sexual intercourse with a child in a case filed May 22. The penalties on the two felonies ranged from 25-40 years in prison if he had been convicted.
The criminal complaint said Johnson first encountered the then girl online, then met with her at Fond du Lac hotels for sex at least twice.
In February, police say Johnson brought the girl to Rhinelander to an apartment rented by Carrie A. Steinmetz to learn how to be a “submissive slut.” He left the teen with Steinmetz and Thomas E. Franz at the apartment and she “actively prostituted herself for money,” according to the report.
As part of the plea agreement, the trafficking in a child charge was dismissed and the child enticement charge was downgraded to a second count of sexual intercourse with a child, a misdemeanor punishable by up to nine months in jail. Johnson pleaded no contest to the two misdemeanor counts.
The hearing was originally scheduled as an arraignment, but Oneida County District Attorney Michael Schiek told Judge Michael Bloom that he had reached the agreement with Johnson’s attorney Leonard Kachinsky. Schiek said while it wasn’t a perfect resolution to the case, it did at least partially punish Johnson for his actions.
“It was never made clear to me exactly why she was brought up here, sexual fantasy, fetishes,” Schiek said. “But he essentially brings her up here and leaves her here in the care of Miss Steinmetz and then Mr. Franz. Why I recognize that he was the one that brought her up here, I also have to recognize that it is never clear that he specifically knew she was under the age of 18. The victim, by all accounts, represented that she was over the age of 18.”
Schiek said that his office had contacted the victim, who said she did not want to get involved further in proceedings.
“She certainly didn’t deserve what happened to her and I hope she is able to find the necessary outlet she will need to deal with this,” Schiek said.
He added that no matter what age she told Johnson she was, since she was underage at the time they had sex, that was a crime.
He added that this is one of those cases where being charged with the crimes is punishment in itself.
“The embarrassment of being charged and convicted is going to be enough to deter future recidivism,” Schiek said.
Kachinsky said that Johnson had never been charged with anything nearly as serious as the charges in this case and that probation was an appropriate punishment. With his job driving a dump truck, a felony conviction would most likely have resulted in Johnson losing his commercial driver’s license and the means to support his wife and four children.
“Obviously he wasn’t supporting them when he engaged in the affair with the 17-year old, nor was he honoring his marriage vows,” Kachinsky said.
He also said that the abuse of drugs and alcohol by Johnson played a part in his behavior during the incident for which he is undergoing treatment.
Kachinsky added that the way his probation would be administered will be very strict, in keeping with any sex crime conviction. For that reason, he argued against placing Johnson on the registered sex offender list.
The judge said that he knew that cases don’t always end as they start.
“In my former capacity as a defense attorney and as a prosecutor, I’m familiar with situations where after a case is examined closer after the dust settles, the appropriate disposition isn’t necessarily the same as the original charges,” Bloom said.
He said the victim purporting to be over 18, along with her appearance, which was that of someone in their early 20s, had to be taken into account.
“Some additional information was provided to me at a co-defendant’s sentencing that the victim was physically mature and it was pointed out that she was holding herself out to not be a child,” Bloom said. “While not a defense to these charges, it’s not something that can be ignored.”
The judge said the extent that the events harmed the victim mentally or physically and what happened to her after she started staying with Seinmetz and Franz further complicated the situation.
“The point is to get yourself back to a spot where the urge to get involved in this sort of thing never would have come up in the first place,” Bloom said. “Or at least your ability to lose control of whatever urge landed you in this situation.”
He said that it was in the public interest if Johnson could be held accountable for his actions yet still remain a contributing member of society. He agreed with Schieck and Kachinsky that the conviction being a public record was also a form of punishment.
“Anyone who knows how to get on a computer and types in your name will be able to pretty much figure it out, if they’re interested,” Bloom said. “I understand that that has the possibility of being a significant penalty going into the future.”
Bloom withheld sentence on the two misdemeanor counts and placed Johnson on probation for two years and did not require him to register as a sex offender. He added that if he violates probation, he would be facing a “significant period of time in the county jail.”
Johnson was the third person sentenced in cases arising from the teen brought to Rhinelander. On Oct. 8, Bloom withheld sentencing Steinmetz and placed her on probation for three years, with 60 days in jail. On Aug. 19, Lloyd T. Apfel, 53, Rhinelander accepted a plea agreement that dismissed the felony charge of soliciting a child for prostitution and pleaded no contest to the misdemeanor charge of having sex with a child over 16 and was given a deferred entry of judgement for 12 months.
Franz, who is also charged in a separate case with Steinmetz involving methamphetamine, has a pre-trial conference on his two cases on Nov. 11. and is still in the Oneida County Jail on a $10,000 cash bond.
Jamie Taylor’s article is published courtesy of the Northwoods River News in Rhinelander.