STURGEON BAY, Wis. — Former Franklin College President Thomas Minar formally pleaded not guilty to child pornography and other sex charges through his attorney at his preliminary hearing in Door County Tuesday.
Minar, who was arrested in January and soon after was fired from the college, appeared in person with attorney Brett Reetz for a very short hearing in a nearly empty courtroom before Judge David L. Weber. Reetz announced that Minar is entering a plea of not guilty for all charges and waiving the right to a formal reading of the amended charges.
Minar, 57, has been charged with 12 counts of possession of child pornography, using a computer to facilitate a sex crime and exposing a child to harmful narrations.
Reetz, contacted after the hearing, declined to comment on the decision to plead not guilty.
The county’s district attorney, Colleen Nordin, said Minar has been offered a plea deal but declined to divulge details. She added that there is no chance of probation because of the minimum three-year initial incarceration requirement in child pornography cases.
“Although he is presumed innocent until proven guilty, the evidence is strong,” Nordin said. “I am confident in the case.”
Minar is due back in a Door County courtroom on Jan. 4 for a status update of the case. If he decides to accept the plea deal at that time, there would be a pre-sentencing investigation conducted by the Department of Corrections.
The pre-sentence report, which contains a sentencing recommendation, would contain information about the offenses as well as background on Minar, including history on his family, mental health, sexuality, employment and residences. The report would be distributed to all parties involved in the case, including Minar, Reetz and two others lawyers representing him—Hal Harlowe and Mark Maciolek of Madison, Wisconsin.
Minar’s legal troubles began on Jan. 6 when he arranged to meet what he believed to be a 15-year-old boy at a McDonald’s in the Door County resort town, according to police reports. Instead, he encountered a police officer who had posed as the teenager on the dating app Grindr. Court documents show he exchanged sexually explicit messages and photos with the officer before meeting in person.
The Franklin filed a Freedom of Information Act request with Sturgeon Bay law enforcement and obtained video footage of the dashboard camera in the police car as well as the police officer’s interviews with Minar at the police station.
Dash cam footage, which can be viewed here, shows police arresting Minar at night in the McDonald’s parking lot just out of Sturgeon Bay’s downtown area. The police officer continues to question Minar in the police vehicle, hands cuffed behind him, as he is driven to the local jail.
The tape begins with Minar’s car being cornered by two police vehicles in the parking lot, and he is told by Officer Brandon Shew that he is being detained. Minar, dressed in a t-shirt, remains solemn as police search him, responding in short sentences and head nods.
Shew explains to Minar that he works for a unit called Internet Crimes Against Children, or ICAC. Shew posed as 15-year-old “Tyler,” with whom Minar spoke on Grindr. Minar said he intended to meet up with the 15-year-old for “friendship” and “mentorship.”
When Shew asks how old Tyler is, Minar laughs. The Grindr profile led him to believe Tyler was 19, he said, but Tyler claimed to be 15.
Minar stumbles over his words. “I like making friends,” he said and then adds, “Nothing I say is going to sound reasonable to you.”
Shew walks Minar through basic questions about his life, and Minar explains that he is a college president in Indiana, but in Sturgeon Bay to care for his 93-year-old mother.
Later, a separate video from the Sturgeon Bay Police Department shows Shew interrogating Minar in a Door County jail for more than an hour. This footage is in two parts, with the first linked here and second here.
In the interview, Minar claims he spoke to the 15-year-old, alias “Tyler,” to be a mentor.
“I’m not attracted to children, to be clear,” Minar said, explaining he’s attracted to younger men and that he may have been with 18-year-olds in the past.
Following the arrest, Minar was released on a $7,500 bond.
The 12 counts of child pornography possession were added in March after a search of Minar’s personal phone revealed several videos and photos of children involved in sex acts, according to court documents.
Investigators also said they discovered Minar participated in a public chat group on the messaging app Kik in 2018, where members are accused of exchanging child pornography and sharing sexual fantasies. One member claimed to be 14-years-old, according to the criminal complaint.
Possession of child pornography is a class D felony in Wisconsin, with each charge carrying a minimum sentence of three years in prison and a maximum of 25 years.
Records confirm that several law enforcement agencies have investigated Minar in addition to Sturgeon Bay police, including the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office and the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department.
Soon after police arrested Minar, the Franklin College Board of Trustees fired him.
Minar will appear in court for a status hearing at 11:10 a.m. on Jan. 4, 2021 in the Door County Justice Center.
This article also appeared on TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.