Friday, December 19, 2008

Steven M. Wickert - Repeat Sex Offender - INTERNET PREDATOR

The Viroqua Police Department recently concluded a pair of lengthy investigations that led to Internet sex crime charges being filed against two men.

According to criminal complaints filed in Vernon County Circuit Court last week, Steven M. Wickert, 29, Green Bay, and Kevin A. Kreisel, 29, Madison, are both facing felony charges. The charges stem from investigations launched by the Viroqua Police Department in its role as an affiliate of the Wisconsin Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.

Viroqua Police Officer Emilee Nottestad went online undercover as a minor during both investigations. Nottestad, who has been an officer in Viroqua since 2000, has received more than 100 hours of training sponsored by the state’s justice department and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to conduct undercover investigations into online sex crimes, Viroqua Police Chief Mark Rahr said. The Viroqua Police Department also received a $1,500 grant from the state to purchase special computer equipment on which the investigations could be conducted and evidence recorded.

Nottestad said the average county resident would be surprised at the need for such policing.

“It’s shocking how rampant (these crimes are),” Nottestad said. “Some people say, ‘Not in Viroqua, not in Vernon County,’ but it’s everywhere.”

Wickert faces 10 counts, two felonies and eight misdemeanors. The felony counts are for attempting to cause a child to view sexual activity as a repeater, which is a class “H” felony punishable by three years in prison and a $5,000 fine. The eight misdemeanor charges against Wickert are attempting to expose a child to harmful material, descriptions or narrations as a repeater and are punishable by nine months in prison or a $10,000 fine.

Nottestad said she put in “hundreds” of hours collecting evidence against Wickert.

According to the criminal complaint against Wickert, he engaged in online discussions of a sexual nature from late July through mid-September. Wickert was told he was chatting with a 13-year-old eighth-grader. Wickert sent pornographic photos over the Internet during the online chats. The content of the conversations, which were numerous and explicit in nature, were saved on the Viroqua Police Department’s computer system and will serve as evidence against Wickert.

Vernon County District Attorney Tim Gaskell subpoenaed Yahoo! Inc. in August to find out information on Wickert. Nottestad then did further investigation to identify Wickert.

Wickert is a registered sex offender and in 2005 was convicted of second degree sexual assault of child, a class BC felony. He served six months in the Brown County Jail on that charge.

On Nov. 10, Nottestad and Viroqua Police Department Assistant Chief Daron Jefson executed a search warrant at Wickert’s residence. They seized his computer and he was arrested and taken to the Brown County Jail, where he was held on a probation detainer. Wickert’s case was filed in Vernon County on Dec. 10 and he has yet to appear in court.

Nottestad said the investigation into Kreisel was conducted in about 20 hours.

Kreisel has been charged with attempting to cause a child to view sexual activity, a class “H” felony, which is punishable by a maximum of three years in prison and a $5,000 fine. Kreisel was also charged with a misdemeanor count of attempting to expose a child to harmful material, descriptions or narrations, which is punishable by nine months in prison or a $10,000 fine. On Dec. 3, Kreisel appeared in Vernon County Circuit Court and waived his right to a preliminary hearing.

According to the criminal complaint, Kreisel engaged in online discussions of a sexual nature from early August through mid-September. Kreisel was also told he was chatting with a 13-year-old eighth-grader.

During the course of the investigation, the complaint said that Kreisel engaged in discussing sexual subjects and performed sexual acts in front of a web camera. Again, the police department’s computer system recorded the information as evidence.

The investigation continued to a point where the “girl” was supposed to meet Kreisel at a Viroqua hotel during the Vernon County Fair, although Kreisel didn’t come to Viroqua.

On Sept. 23, Nottestad, aided by the Madison Police Department, executed a search warrant at Kreisel’s residence. A total of 13 pieces of evidence were taken and Kreisel said he didn’t believe he was having online chats with a 13-year-old girl. He said thought he was chatting with another adult in a role-playing situation, according to the complaint.

A status conference in Kreisel’s case has been set for Feb. 23, 2009.

Rahr said his department became involved with the task force at the request of Nottestad. He said the department is continuing its work.

“Within 15 minutes of being in a chatroom (Nottestad) can strike up a conversation with a gentleman, who then asks her to go into a private chatroom,” Rahr said. “The officer goes online, has chit-chat with a person, one thing leads to another and (the investigation is underway).”

The Wisconsin Attorney General’s office released the news of Kreisel’s arrest statewide.

“I want to congratulate Chief Mark Rahr and Officer Emilee Nottestad on their first Internet Crimes Against Children Case,” Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said. “The Viroqua Police Department is a key partner in the fight to help protect Wisconsin’s kids from Internet predators.”

Nottestad said that through her training she’s made connections all over the state and the nation with fellow law enforcement officers who have received the same type of training and do the same type of investigations.

“We’re working to be pro-active in policing this,” Nottestad said. “Our goals include getting information out in the public to educate kids and parents and help stop the victimization.

“As a parent, knowing there are predators out there just waiting for kids to log onto their computers... it’s frightening,” Nottestad continued.

In October, Van Hollen attended a round-table discussion at the Vernon County Sheriff’s Department in Viroqua where he said that it was a top priority of his department to stop online sex crimes against children.

"25% of all sex offenders re-offend within 15 years"

.........Sarah Tofte

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