Former Garden Plain football coach Todd Puetz was not trying to solicit sex from a 15-year-old girl when he was arrested in 2011 but was instead trying to help two young runaways who said they needed money, a defense lawyer told a jury Tuesday.
“Todd only intended to help them by giving them what money he had,” Dan Monnat told the jury. “The evidence will show that Todd is a flawed human being, but he is not a flawed human being who is guilty of the child sex crimes he’s accused of here today. Todd Puetz never had any interest in underage girls.”
Monnat’s comments came during the opening statement at Puetz’s trial on charges of electronic solicitation, attempted aggravated indecent liberties with a child and attempted criminal sodomy.
Prosecutors said Puetz was one of seven men arrested in October 2011 during a police sting operation that targeted men willing to pay to have sex with underage girls.
Assistant District Attorney Shannon Wilson told the jury in her opening statement that the operation was set up by the Wichita-Sedgwick County Exploited and Missing Child Unit to combat child sex trafficking.
Investigators set up in a government-owned house in the 15100 block of West Kellogg and placed an ad in the escort section of the backpage.com Internet website. The operation was conducted on Oct. 21 and Oct. 22, 2011.
“They were not prepared for the response they got,” Wilson said. “They were overwhelmed.”
Puetz called the number at 8:06 p.m. on Oct. 22 and was arrested shortly before 10 p.m. when he showed up at the house after several other phone calls, Wilson said.
She offered a synopsis of the first conversation between Puetz and undercover Wichita police Detective Jennifer Wright, who was posing as a 15-year-old girl.
Puetz: “How much for an hour?”
Puetz: “Are you 18?”
Wright: “I’m 15.”
Puetz: “That’s pretty young.”
Wright: “Well, it’s not like I’m 5.”
Puetz: “You’re not a cop are you?”
Wright: “No I am not a cop.”
Monnat told the jury that Puetz began suffering from depression, anxiety and panic attacks after his father died in 2008. He ended up taking two prescription drugs, Monnat said, but was worried about becoming over dependent on the medication. Puetz eventually turned to massage therapy to ease his anxieties, Monnat said.
Shorty before his arrest, Monnat said, Garden Plain lost its first football game of the season, and Puetz was afraid that another loss would keep the team out of the state playoffs. Puetz was worried that that could cost him his job, Monnat said.
Monnat said that by this time, Puetz had learned that some massage therapists in Wichita offered sexual favors for an additional cost. He said Puetz occasionally took advantage of those offers. On the night of his arrest, Monnat said, Puetz had a sexual encounter with such a therapist who claimed to be 24 but was probably around 30.
“Todd Puetz never had any interest in underage girls,” Monnat said. “Todd Puetz is guilty of being unfaithful to his family. Todd Puetz is not guilty of the sex crimes he’s accused of in this case”.
The trial is being held in the courtroom of District Judge Ben Burgess and is expected to last about a week.
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The Wichita Eagle – By Hurst Laviana