MENOMINEE—A 23-year-old Menominee man Friday told how former law enforcement officer Brian Helfert befriended him and allegedly carried on a six-year sexually abusive relationship with him during his teens.
He told how the former deputy allegedly groped him in his squad car during “ride alongs” while out in the county and on a police boat during the city’s Waterfront Festival and how Helfert and he allegedly had sexual relations dozens, if not hundreds, of times in a spare bedroom of Helfert’s Menominee home.
The young man’s mother testified how her son would come back from a visit to Helfert’s house and lay on the floor of the shower crying.
The man and his mom were the only witnesses to testify Friday during a preliminary examination for Helfert in Menominee County District Court. The EagleHerald does not print the names of possible sexual assault victims without their consent.
After about four hours of testimony, District Judge Robert J. Jamo said he will make his ruling Monday on whether Helfert will be bound over for trial in Circuit Court. A preliminary examination is a sort of mini trial, where the prosecution is required to show that there is probable cause that the charged crime was committed and that it is more likely than not that the accused committed that crime.
Jamo can either bind the defendant over for trial, bind some of the charges over for trial or dismiss all of the charges.
Helfert is currently serving a six-month jail sentence in Ontonagon, Michigan, after previously pleading guilty to attempted accosting of a teenager for immoral purposes. He was arrested last month on an 11-count felony complaint regarding alleged incidents with another boy.
He is charged with: Child sexually abusive activity, four counts of criminal sexual conduct—first degree, three counts of criminal sexual conduct — third degree, two counts of assault with intent to commit sexual penetration, gross indecency between males and sexually delinquent person notice.
Helfert could receive multiple life sentences if convicted of the criminal sexual conduct charges.
Alleged victim testifies
The 23-year-old man was on the witness stand for about two hours Friday. He said he met Helfert through relatives in 2013 when he was 15 years old. He said it didn’t take long for he and the then sheriff’s deputy to start a friendship.
“He was a police officer and I wanted him to be a mentor to me,” the man said. “I wanted to be a police officer.”
He said Helfert suggested he enter the department’s ride-along program to help him learn how to be a police officer.
The witness described the first time Helfert allegedly touched him inappropriately over his pants when he was at the defendant’s house in Menominee.
Menominee County Prosecuting Attorney Jeffrey Rogg asked how that made him feel.
“I was very uncomfortable, but I just let it happen,” he said, adding that he didn’t want to leave for fear of upsetting Helfert or his own family.
“This was very personal and I didn’t want my family to own that and judge me,” the witness said.
Eventually, the alleged victim said the physical contact happened more often and became more involved. The man explained how Helfert had a wide variety of “sex toys” he kept in a spare bedroom and he graphically explained in detail how he and Helfert used them on each other. He said Helfert had what appeared to be an ordinary board game, but when you rolled the dice, each number was associated with a different sex act.
Rogg, preferring to call the acts sexual assaults, asked the man why he kept going back to Helfert’s house. “I wanted to be a police officer and I felt he was the one who could help me do that,” the witness said.
The man said Helfert told him to keep their relationship between them quiet “because nobody else would understand.”
The witness said the sexual activities with Helfert began when he was 15 and continued for about six years. He estimated each activity took place between 10 and 40 times, putting the total count likely well into the hundreds.
In cross examination, defense attorney Trenton Stupak of Escanaba questioned the witness on what appears to be a selective memory. Stupak said what the witness told police officers in interviews differs from what he testified Friday, including the alleged number of sexual encounters between he and Helfert.
The alleged victim said he has a bi-polar condition which affects his memory.
Stupak asked the witness if he remembers having dinner with Helfert in September 2020, going for a walk with him and telling him he loves him? The witness said he could not recall any of those events.
Moments later, the witness said he does remember that he and his mom had dinner at Helfert’s house in September.
“You were just testifying about things that happened seven years ago like they happened yesterday and you have trouble remembering something from six months ago? Why is that?,” he asked.
“I don’t think the way most people do,” the man said. “I have a hard time trying to remember things.”
Stupak asked the witness if, after the age of 16, did Helfert ever force him to do anything, sexually, against his will.
The witness said, “no.”
“So after the age of 16, all of those things that you testified to that happened to you, was consensual?” Stupak said. “And that’s why you kept going over there—over and over. Hundreds of times.”
“I guess,” the witness said.
Stupak asked the man why he kept going to Helfert’s house despite everything bad that allegedly was happening.
“He (Helfert) would constantly guilt trip me into coming over to his house until I said yes,” he said. “I was very embarrassed, very disgusted with myself.”
Stupak asked the witness if Helfert ever pointed a gun at him or threatened him physical harm in any way. The man said he did not.
The man said he distanced himself, sexually, from Helfert after he turned 18.
The witness said the first person he told about the encounters with Helfert was his mom last fall. Then he told police officers on Oct. 5, 2020.
Stupak asked the man if the reason he went to police was because of a plea bargain Helfert received in a previous sexual assault case.
“No, I came forward to put a man behind bars that rapes children,” the witness said.
Stupak reminded the witness he said something different when being interviewed by detectives. The man told officers he came forward because of the plea bargain, Stupak said.
Befriending the family
The alleged victim’s mother preceded him on the witness stand and she told the court how she met Helfert in April of 2013 and how he became a close family friend, even coming to her family’s home for holiday dinners and other occasions, such as birthday parties.
“I saw Brian as a friend, like family,” she said. “He was a friend and a mentor to (her son).”
The woman testified she stood by Helfert, even as he was charged with sex crimes. That all changed in 2020, she said, when her son began telling her sordid details of his relationship with the deputy.
Rogg asked the woman why she was in court. “To help my son find justice,” she said.
Under cross examination, Stupak asked the woman if her son had a good relationship with Helfert for several years. She said they did have good relationship, “or so, she thought.”
Stupak asked the mother when she asked her son if there was anything improper with his relationship with Helfert.
“When he would come home from Brian’s house and go sit in the shower and lay on the shower floor and cry,” she said.
The woman said she continued to let her son visit Helfert after the first sexual assault allegations came out because she trusted him and didn’t believe what he was being accused of doing.
“I didn’t report anything until (her son) told me, what he told me,” the witness said, “then at that point we called Jeff (Rogg).” She said that was in October, 2020.
Judge will rule on Monday
Prior to closing arguments, Jamo told both attorneys he will make his ruling Monday at 8:30 a.m. He said the case is complex with many counts and he wants to give it ample time.
In his closing statement, Rogg said in light of the testimony, he believes even more charges could be brought against Helfert. Meanwhile, Stupak said arguments could be made to dismiss all 11 charges against the defendant.
EagleHerald staff writer
TOWN OF PESHTIGO—After the April 6, spring election, the Town of Peshtigo Town Board dove into a long list of priority “to-dos” that necessitated tying up a few loose ends and working to implement a streamlined operation.
In her first 30 days following the spring election, Town Board Chairperson Cindy Boyle said that the more urgent “to-dos” became self-evident, prompting the board to convene multiple times during that first month, so as to begin undertaking those priorities. During the May 18 meeting, those efforts began allowing them to gradually check a few items off the list.
COMMUNICATION AND TECHNOLOGY: WEBSITE CONTRACT
Initially, according to Boyle, one of the more urgent tasks at hand centered on implementing more functional and structural procedures that enhance the overall efficiency of how the town’s government operates. Such enhancements address everything from the method and the timing of how the board receives communications to the functions of committees.
A 2009 report by CommGap, a leading U.S. language service company titled, “The Contribution of Government Communication Capacity to Achieving Good Governance Outcomes,” provided some insight into the importance of communication in government. The report stemmed from a roundtable held at The George Washington University’s Elliott School for International Affairs.
It stated that “providing citizens with adequate information on priorities, programs and activities contributes to government legitimacy.” In other words, communication facilitates conciseness, transparency and effectiveness.
An integral component of how any town government communicates in the contemporary world centers on the way it harmonizes with technology. Coherent communication relies heavily on technology.
For some time, prior to the spring election, some technological gaps loomed apparent for TOP when, especially within the vast realm of the digital world, where the town makes a somewhat disjointed presence on the Web.
“The town is in dire need of a website,” Boyle said.
And during last week’s town board meeting, officials took a major step towards filling that need when they unanimously approved to contract with Town Web LLC out of Madison to revamp TOP’s existing clunky and broken website. Town Web represented one of the two least expensive options out of five bids. The contract rings in at $1,599 for an initial design with an annual hosting fee of $1,260. Town Web’s portfolio includes over 600 municipality websites in 33 states.
Furton pointed out that a website serves as means for residents to access information and conduct communication and Boyle agreed, expressing delight that the board voted to approve the contract.
“It’s just a great way to stay in contact with the public on a regular basis,” Boyle said. “It’s a way of working towards that transparency and communication with the public.”
Boyle hopes to have the website up and running by July.
RECYCLING CENTER AND TECHNOLOGY
According to Boyle, after identifying some “real concerns” with respect to the recycling center’s efficiency, safety and financial resource management, the board plans to apply additional technological solutions to the town’s recycling center. While no plans have yet been implemented, board members continue to work on the deployment of a point-of-sale system that enables the tracking of the product types dropped off for recycling which in turn can provide more efficiency for both residents and the town in terms of finances.
Boyle explained that a point-of-sale system will allow the town to better track what actually arrives at the center (tires, mattresses and etc.) and cross-reference those items with various categories, price indexes and revenue. Moreover, it will provide electronic receipts for residents, a means of communicating various recycling center notifications (like schedule changes) and also a better way for the town to monitor income versus expenses at the center.
ON THE LEGAL FRONT
Currently, TOP lacks sufficient legal representation. However, stemming from interviews with two potential municipal attorneys, the board voted unanimously to hire attorney Allen Reuter of Reuter, Whitish & Evans out of Madison at the May 18 meeting. Before Reuters can officially take the position, a contract will need to be drawn up.
In addition, the town lacks an environmental attorney. To that point, during the meeting, Boyle explained that her knowledge regarding the environmental discussions that occurred before she was elected are limited largely because those discussions frequently occurred in closed session.
Supervisor Kristen Edgar pointed out that even within those closed session meetings, communication with Von Briesen remained limited. She stated that “a lot of that (communication) was done outside of the board” so she, like others on the board, felt as though she lacked adequate information regarding the town’s environmental discussions.
And Boyle agreed, elaborating on the disadvantage of that lack of information.
“As a newly-elected board member, it is a really awkward place to find yourself in … it sets myself up at a severe disadvantage because I have no historic context (regarding TOP’s environmental discussion) by which to even realistically take the next step,” Boyle said. “If existing board members don’t even know what was discussed, then we are all at a serious disadvantage.”
Previously the town utilized law firm Von Briesen & Roper, S.C. as an environmental attorney. However, that relationship presently remains in a holding pattern due to the lack of an approved reimbursement agreement and a retainer payment. During the May 18 meeting, town officials voted to schedule a comprehensive informational meeting with Von Briesen to better understand where that relationship currently stands.
The board voted unanimously to establish a reimbursement agreement with Von Briesen not to exceed $2,000 for the purpose of meeting with the firm to receive an overview and written brief that can bring the current board up to date on the town’s previous environmental discussions.
WATER AND PFAS
On the topic of an environmental attorney, discussions often lead back to that elephant in the room, the issue of contaminated groundwater, which has tainted many private wells in TOP with a toxic substance known as PFAS (per- and —polyfluoroalkyl substances).
The PFAS contamination in the TOP and Marinette areas makes this region of Northeast Wisconsin one of the primary hotspots for PFAS contamination in the state. Currently, a $17.5 million settlement regarding the TOP contamination is pending final approval by a judge at a fairness hearing in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina. That hearing will occur today.
Nevertheless, resident frustrations and fears linger. Those anxieties emerge from the consequential fallout affecting access to a safe and permanent water source for TOP families living in the contaminated zone. Fears also emerge from the potential of serious health effects related to PFAS exposure and impacts on property values imparted by that contamination.
The PFAS crisis resulted from operations of a fire suppression testing facility owned by Tyco Fire Products LP., a subsidiary of Johnson Controls Inc., (JCI/Tyco). A JCI/Tyco proposal that addresses partial remediation of a concentrated portion of the contaminated plume in the groundwater beneath the City of Marinette near to, and including, the JCI/Tyco facility was recently approved by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. The proposal utilized an elaborate groundwater extraction and treatment system (GETS) to remove PFAS from the focused area of the plume with high PFAS concentration.
However, GETS centers on one specific area of contamination; the system takes decades to reach a significant level of PFAS reduction; and it does nothing to address TOP families who live in a portion of the contamination plume far removed from the GETS system focus area.
In a recent interview with the EagleHerald, Boyle epitomized TOP residents’ frustrations and fears.
“It isn’t like (JCI/Tyco) can take a big straw and suck out all the water that has already been contaminated in the Town of Peshtigo backward,” Boyle said. “That damage is done. That damage is what we are going to be facing for 30, 40 or 50 years.”
MARINETTE — On Friday the Wisconsin Supreme Court terminated its COVID-19 orders, leaving the decision with respect to further safety precautions up to the individual counties to be made by the judges in that county.
Marinette County Judge Jane Sequin and Judge Jim Morrison met and discussed this issue Friday and agreed that effective immediately we will impose no COVID-19 orders. Masks, social distancing and hand sanitizing requirements no longer apply.
Neither Sequin, Commissioner Nancy Kallgren, nor Morrison will object or restrict in any way person’s individual decision to wear a mask or take other reasonable precautions.
Morrison added, “We will continue to utilize Zoom for remote appearances. Our pre-existing orders with respect to Zoom remain in effect. Specifically, request for Zoom appearances must be made by an appropriate filing at least five days prior to the court hearing. Telephone and email requests for Zoom cannot be accepted. All of the Zoom protocols remain in effect for any Zoom appearances.”
A formal order to this effect will be entered today to memorialize this communication.
Marinette County Public Defender Bradley Schraven will provide a copy of this order to all members of the Marinette County Bar Association in his capacity as president.
The crew at “American Pickers” say they are excited to return to Wisconsin. They plan to film episodes of The History Channel hit television series throughout Wisconsin in July.
“We understand that with the proliferation of COVID-19, we are all facing very uncertain times,” they said in a statement. “We at ‘American Pickers’ are taking the pandemic very seriously and will be following all guidelines and protocols for safe filming as outlined by the state and CDC. While we plan to be in Wisconsin this July, we will continue to re-schedule if conditions change for the worse. Regardless, we are excited to continue to reach the many collectors in the area to discuss their years of picking.”
“American Pickers” is a documentary series that explores the fascinating world of antique “picking” on The History Channel. The show follows skilled pickers in the business, as they hunt for America’s most valuable antiques. They are always excited to find sizeable, unique collections and learn the interesting stories behind them.
As they hit the back roads from coast to coast, the Pickers are on a mission to recycle and rescue forgotten relics. Along the way, they want to meet characters with remarkable and exceptional items. They hope to give historically significant objects a new lease on life, while learning a thing or two about America’s past along the way.
The Pickers have seen a lot of rusty gold over the years and are always looking to discover something they’ve never seen before. They are ready to find extraordinary items and hear fascinating tales about them.
The “American Pickers” TV show is looking for leads and say they would love to explore hidden treasures in Wisconsin.
“If you or someone you know has a large, private collection or accumulation of antiques that the Pickers can spend the better part of the day looking through, send us your name, phone number, location, and description of the collection with photos,” they said in a statement.
The items can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org or people can call 855-OLD-RUST. People also can go on Facebook @GotAPick.