The former superintendent of the New Holstein School District was sentenced Thursday to five years in prison for setting up a sexual encounter with a person whom he thought was a 15-year-old boy.
But the person on the other end of the Internet conversations last year was a Milwaukee police officer who had posed as the youth responding to a personal ad posted by Christopher J. Nelson on Craigslist.
“Rarely do I get a defendant like you Mr. Nelson, a dedicated public servant,” said Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Dennis Cimpl.
Cimpl noted that Nelson’s accomplishments, lack of criminal record, cooperation and remorse weren’t enough to avoid the five-year term the law presumes as a minimum for his crime, followed by five years of extended supervision.
“The Legislature has spoken,” Cimpl said. “They set a high barrier. They want punishment.”
According to the criminal complaint, the online chats began in May 2010 and culminated in January, when Nelson, 59, set up a meeting with the supposed boy at a specific location while Nelson was in Milwaukee for a state school board conference. Police staked out the spot, saw Nelson arrive and later stopped him. He then admitted he had been the person communicating online.
Right before the planned meeting, the posing officer had asked what the encounter would be like, and Nelson responded, “Well, we will meet and talk, and I suppose size one another up in each of our minds . . . probably thinking to ourselves if we are who we thought we would be meeting . . . am I what u thought you’d meet and are you the person I was thinking I’d meet. Then if we say ‘yes’ in our minds we’ll leave go to hotel,” according to the complaint. Then it detailed specific sex acts.
At his hotel room, police found a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door, the room dimly lighted by scented candles, body massage oils and condoms.
Nelson was charged in February and pleaded guilty in May to one count of using a computer to facilitate a sex crime. He was fired in March by the New Holstein School Board.
On Thursday, he appeared in a gray suit, white shirt and tie. He told Cimpl he’s been embarrassed, ashamed and disgusted with what he said online. But he had told a doctor he had never had such conversations or any sexual contact with a minor.
Nelson said his 79 days in jail before release on bail have already changed his life, and he begged Cimpl not to send him to prison.
But Cimpl, reading from a psychological evaluation, said he was convinced that if a real 15-year-old had shown up on Jan. 19, Nelson would have committed a sex crime, and that the community suffers when someone like Nelson is nabbed in a sting operation.
“We’re all victims when someone wants to prey on children,” Cimpl said.
At the time of his arrest, Nelson had a computer flash drive with child pornography. A couple of days later, more were found in his New Holstein office. He faces five counts of possessing child pornography in Calumet County. That case is pending.