By LeAnn R. Ralph
MENOMONIE — Former Colfax resident Michael Fodness has been sentenced to 14 years in prison and ten years of extended supervision on charges of child enticement.
The Honorable William C. Stewart sentenced the 46-year-old Fodness during a two-hour hearing in Dunn County Circuit Court November 8.
Fodness pleaded guilty in September to one felony count of child enticement by giving or selling drugs as part of a plea deal with the Dunn County district attorney’s office.
The remaining multiple charges of child enticement, sexual assault, intimidating a witness, repeated sexual assault of a child, sexual assault of a child 16 years or older and bail jumping were dismissed but were read in at the time of sentencing.
Fodness’s attorney, Thomas Starr, asked that the statements made by alleged victims be removed from the pre-sentence investigation report because Fodness was convicted of providing marijuana to only one teenaged girl.
Starr said he was concerned about those statements being included since Fodness was not charged with any wrong-doing for the other young women.
Judge Stewart denied Starr’s motion.
The other witnesses testified in relation to evidence of other crimes, and the many counts that were dismissed can be considered during sentencing, Judge Stewart said.
The Class D felony of child enticement and providing a controlled substance carries a penalty of up to a $10,000 fine and/or 25 years in prison, noted Dunn County Assistant District Attorney Andrew Maki.
The testimony by other alleged victims and the number of other uncharged crimes or previously charged crimes indicate a pattern of behavior of enticing young juvenile females with a controlled substance and then having sex with them, he said.
Fodness has exploited young girls since he was in his early 20s, Maki said.
In the past, Fodness has been on probation six times, has had his probation revoked two times and has been in prison on three different cases, he said.
Fodness has an anti-social personality disorder and minimizes his own behavior and places the blame on others, Maki said.
The defendant preyed on the vulnerable rebelliousness of children; he was charming and manipulated his victims with gifts; he has gotten away with many crimes for many years, he said.
When those who were present in the courtroom were asked if any victims wanted to address the court, one young woman said she had been waiting for this day for four years and that she hoped Fodness would “go away for a long time” and that she was glad he “can’t do it again.”
Fodness ruined her life and she now is unable to trust others, she said.
Dunn County Sheriff Dennis Smith asked if he could address the court.
Sheriff Smith noted that he has been in law enforcement for 37 years and that the sheriff’s department has had many contacts with Fodness over the years and that he was manipulative and highly intelligent.
Fodness was smart enough to know just how far to push the law. He was intelligent enough that he could have done something constructive with his life, perhaps a scientist who cured cancer, but instead, he used his intelligence to abuse young girls, Smith said.
Fodness was a “travesty to young girls” in the Colfax and Elk Mound areas, he said.
Starr noted that up the point of the sentencing hearing, Fodness had already served 1,109 days in jail and that serving time in jail was a more severe punishment than serving the same amount of time in prison.
The Dunn County jail does not have as many programs as a prison, and Fodness was not able to use the time in jail to help himself, he said.
Fodness should be sentenced for the crime he admitted to, but he should not be sentenced for “speculation” of other crimes, Starr said.
The defendant has admitted to giving marijuana to one girl on one occasion, but the statements of the other alleged victims assume that he is guilty of all the other crimes of which they accuse him, he said.
Starr suggested that Fodness be sentenced to ten years in prison and five years of extended supervision but that the prison sentenced be stayed and Fodness be put on probation instead.
There are many videos of investigators’ interviews with other alleged victims, but there was only one “true” victim in the case and that was the young woman named as the victim, Starr said.
The credibility of the victim was poor, however, and the other alleged victims also were not credible because they were not sure of their ages at the time or of the exact circumstances, he said.
A “mob mentality like the Old West” has surrounded the Fodness case, and he was convicted in the mind of the community by hearsay of incidents that allegedly happened 15 or 20 years ago, Starr said.
Fodness completed probation, stayed out of the system for ten or 15 years, had minor brushes with the law and was employed by Menard’s, he said.
He “made a mistake” in 2004 and 2005, was convicted of a misdemeanor sex offense, successfully completed probation, was fired from Menard’s but found other employment until the time of his arrest three years ago, Starr said.
Fodness should not be incarcerated on unproven allegations, he said.
Assistant District Attorney Maki noted that Starr had said many of the alleged victims had no corroboration for their stories, but that Fodness’s relationship was overlapping with some of the victims and that the alleged victims who testified in court or were interviewed basically told the same story.
Fodness read a statement to the court that he had written and pointed out that everything that has been said about him are bad things and that no good things are mentioned.
Fodness said he’d had a professional career of helping others and worked 60 to 80 hours per week maintaining the fleet for Menard’s.
In 2007, he began attending church regularly, he said.
Fodness noted that used to have a “hard partying rock star persona,” but that now the “hard partying me is gone” and has been replaced by “the middle-aged me.”
If the district attorney’s office could have convicted on the other counts, the DA would not have agreed to dismiss those counts as part of a plea deal, Fodness said.
Fodness told the court he had learned his lesson and that he would not fail on probation.
“Allow me to prove them wrong … I can and will change the direction of my life,” he said.
Starting over at 46 will be difficult but not impossible; starting over ten years from now will be much more difficult, Fodness said.
“Do not throw me away over this … give me one chance,” he said.
During the testimony for other acts evidence, a number of victims testified and it was more than a few, Judge Stewart said.
Judge Stewart noted that it was the first time in his career that he had ever seen investigators writing down more names of alleged victims during testimony.
Fodness spent 1,109 days in jail and was held on a $100,000 cash bond.
Judge Stewart said he was persuaded there was a justification for Fodness being in custody because of the alleged intimidation of a witness and the issue of Fodness potentially fleeing the jurisdiction before trial.
The judge noted he has written many decisions on motions in this case and that it has been more than other cases that have come through his court.
The judge also noted the multiple changes of attorneys.
Starr is Fodness’s fifth attorney.
Judge Stewart said he was troubled by the effect of Fodness’s conduct on the alleged victims and that his prior offenses “are extensive.”
In seventh grade, Fodness was put in an institutional setting for misconduct, he said.
From his early 20s until now, Fodness has had a history of conduct that had common themes indicating a pattern, Judge Stewart said.
The common thread from the pre-sentence investigation report is that it is almost impossible for Fodness to own up to what he did and that he has an unwillingness or inability to accept responsibility for his conduct, he said.
Fodness has used his intellect to the detriment of teenaged girls, Judge Stewart said.
One alleged victim called Fodness her “knight in shining armor”; Fodness would listen to the teenagers, provide them with drugs and alcohol, a chance to get away and a chance for sex, he said.
Judge Stewart said when he hears this many people telling a similar story, “it is not a mistake or an error or a vendetta.”
The alleged victims felt “loved and cared for,” and part of Fodness’s method was to charm his victims to get what he wanted, Judge Stewart said.
The PSI report notes that Fodness has stated, “I did not do any of those things” and that he had never harmed anyone. The alternative PSI submitted by Starr noted that Fodness found sexual satisfaction within a relationship but that once he no longer found satisfaction with one particular girl, Fodness admits that he “finds a new one,” Judge Stewart said.
Supervision has not worked in the past, and there is no reason to believe it will work now, he said.
Fodness is glib, superficial, borderline narcissistic, accepts minimum responsibility for his actions and places the blame on everyone but himself, Judge Stewart said.
The risk for Fodness offending again in the near future is high, and the crimes he has committed were driven by criminal sexual motivation, he said.
Since Fodness does not take responsibility for his actions, if someone is not receptive or responsive, then treatment is a waste of time, Judge Stewart said.
Fodness says he does not have an issue with drugs or alcohol and that he does not need treatment. He has no empathy for his alleged victims and says the victims were never harmed because nothing happened and that he was only trying to help them, Judge Stewart said.
Fodness will never admit what happened to the alleged victims. The pattern of behavior, the lack of empathy and the continued criminal conduct are comments on Fodness’s character, and yet Fodness says, “I have changed,” Judge Stewart said.
Judge Stewart objected to Starr’s statements that the Dunn County jail has few programs available for inmates.
The Dunn County jail offers 20 programs, such as cognitive restructuring, alcohol and drug programs as well as a mentoring program, he said.
Fodness had a hard-partying lifestyle for more than 20 years; he was manipulative, and he was a predator of young women aged 14, 15 or 16, Judge Stewart said.
Fodness has not been responsive to guidance from any source; programs are available, but he has not been responsive to help; he will have an opportunity in prison to show he has changed, the judge said.
Because of Fodness’s longevity of conduct and his character, there is a need to protect the public, he said.
Judge Stewart sentenced Fodness to 14 years of initial confinement and to ten years of extended supervision, with credit for 1,109 days served in the Dunn County jail.
Fodness also will be required to register as a sex offender for life, to have no contact with any of the victims or alleged victims, no contact with young women under 18 years of age, to take part in alcohol and other drug abuse assessment, to take a mental health assessment and to be tested for sexually transmitted diseases.
Judge Stewart also said he would hold open the question of restitution for six months to allow Maki time to talk to the victims to find out if restitution is requested.
In the past three years, the Fodness case has been scheduled to go to a jury trial four different times. A jury trial for Fodness in Ladysmith in February of this year ended on the second day when Judge Stewart declared a mistrial.
The latest trial was scheduled to begin September 16 and run through September 20.
In May of 2011, Fodness asked for a change of venue in the case. Judge Stewart granted the change of venue because of the number of potential alleged victims and their family members. The court district’s chief judge and the district court administrator selected Rusk County as the location for the Fodness trial.