INDIANAPOLIS — Former Franklin College president Thomas Minar made his first court appearance in months Wednesday to review new charges that allege he possessed child pornography and engaged in other child sex crimes in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin.
Minar, 56, and his attorneys appeared for a hearing Wednesday afternoon via livestream due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has slowed court proceedings in Wisconsin and around the country. Wednesday’s hearing was originally scheduled for a date in April but was pushed back repeatedly as the virus spread this spring and shut down public life.
In the time since Minar’s last court appearance on Feb. 20, Wisconsin prosecutors added 12 counts of child pornography possession to a criminal complaint after discovering pornographic videos and images involving children on his personal iPhone. Each individual charge is a felony and carries a minimum sentence of three years in Wisconsin.
The amended criminal complaint outlines in detail the videos and images police discovered. Many depicted young boys and teens engaging in sexual acts with each other or with older men, according to the complaint.
Police also discovered Minar was involved in a public chat group on the messaging app Kik in 2018, where members exchanged child pornography and shared sexual fantasies. One member claimed to be 14 years old, according to the criminal complaint.
Because of the new charges, Minar’s attorney recommended the court schedule an additional status conference to review his right to a new preliminary hearing. Minar waived his right to a hearing to review the original charges.
“Given the significance of this case, I want to be thorough,” said Brett Reetz, an attorney who represents Minar, in the virtual hearing Wednesday. Reetz was joined by Mark Maciolek, a new attorney representing Minar. He and attorney Hal Harlowe, who did not appear in court Wednesday, joined Minar’s legal team on April 22, according to the court record.
Minar’s attorneys did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
“I think, out of an abundance of caution, this is the best way to proceed,” said Judge David Weber after the parties agreed to the new status conference. “I think it’s appropriate.”
Door County District Attorney Colleen Nordin is leading the prosecution and said the new evidence found on Minar’s phone support the charges.
“The State looks forward to this matter proceeding and we believe we have strong evidence supporting the allegations in the second amended complaint,” Nordin said in a statement.
Law enforcement in Sturgeon Bay, a resort town in Door County, Wisconsin, first arrested Minar on Jan. 6 at a local McDonald’s where police said he intended to meet an undercover officer posing as a 15-year-old boy on the dating app Grindr. Court documents show Minar exchanged sexually explicit messages and photos with the officer before agreeing to meet in person.
When he was arrested, Minar said to police he intended to be a mentor to the boy, and that he was seeking “conversation, education and friendship,” according to court records.
Prosecutors initially charged Minar with three crimes: child enticement, using a computer to facilitate a sex crime and exposing a child to harmful material.
The Franklin College Board of Trustees announced they had fired Minar as the college’s president on Jan. 13 after learning of the arrest. They soon appointed long-time staff member and athletic director Kerry Prather to the role as president and suspended an ongoing search for a new president that began in fall 2019.
Minar’s next court appearance is scheduled for July 30 at 3:10 p.m. Central Time. He and his attorneys are expected to decide then whether to waive his right to a preliminary hearing on the new charges.
Erica Irish is the 2020 Russell Pulliam editor for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.