Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

Remove Images

Former coach gets 4 years for child enticement

by Rob Ireland

July 18, 2013

The prosecutor painted a former wrestling coach Steven Springsteen-Hensel as a man who groomed children so he can develop a sexual relationship with them.

Springsteen-Hensel's defense attorney argued his client was a good person and coach who used terrible judgment when he sent sexually explicit text messages to a 17-year-old boy on the cusp of his 18th birthday.

Walworth County Judge John Race sentenced Springsteen-Hensel, 32, Elkhorn, to four years in prison and six years of extended supervision after he pleaded guilty to a felony charge of child enticement.

Springsteen-Hensel was arrested May 15, 2012, after he sent text messages to a Delavan detective who was pretending to be a 17-year-old boy that Springsteen-Hensel knew from the Southern Lakes Wrestling Center.

Springsteen-Hensel was an unpaid volunteer at the wrestling club for more than a decade.

He spent a significant amount of time there and was instrumental in its growth, according to courtroom testimony.

On May 7, 2012, the boy asked Springsteen-Hensel for a job at the Southern Lakes Wrestling Center, and Springsteen-Hensel told the boy to get the job he would need to allow Springsteen-Hensel to perform oral sex on him, according to the criminal complaint.

Delavan Police Det. Joaquin Alonzo used the boy's phone to send text messages to Springsteen-Hensel.

Posing as the 17-year-old, Alonzo set up a meeting with Springsteen-Hensel at Phoenix Middle School in Delavan.

According to the plan that was developed during the texting, Springsteen-Hensel and the boy would go on a bike ride on the White River Trail and on the trail Springsteen-Hensel would perform oral sex on the 17-year-old.

When police arrested Springsteen-Hensel in the parking lot of Phoenix Middle School, he had two men's bicycles mounted on the back of his Ford Escape.

The victim in the case turned 18 the next day.

Prosecutor's arguments

Deputy District Attorney Joshua Grube said this case is more than a man propositioning sex to a boy on the eve of his 18th birthday. Instead, Grube argued that Springsteen-Hensel used his position as a coach to gain trust and influence over a child.

The presentence investigation (PSI) recommended an 11-year sentence for Springsteen-Hensel, which included seven years of initial confinement and four years of extended supervision. A PSI is a report by the Department of Corrections.

The PSI writer reviews the relevant facts and speaks to the victims and the defendant.

Grube said Springsteen-Hensel also sent inappropriate text messages to the victim's 15-year-old brother. Springsteen-Hensel admitted to the presentence investigator that he may have said sexually inappropriate comments to other children, "but nobody younger than 15," Grube said during the hearing.

"This was horrific for (the victim)," Grube said. "He's a smart kid, he's a tough kid, but this had a tremendous impact on him."

Because Springsteen-Hensel was the boy's coach, he confined in him, Grube said.

"He used this as a way to build his trust and to find common ground," Grube said. "This is prime and glaring evidence of his grooming behavior."

Grube said after the charges against Springsteen-Hensel became public other boys came forward with reports of odd behavior by the coach.

Children reported to their parents that Springsteen-Hensel would hug them, tell them he loved them and would make sexual comments to them.

Grube said this case isn't a single act, but instead was "months in the making."

Defense arguments

Public Defender Travis Schwantes said it would be a sad day if Springsteen-Hensel was sent to prison.

He pointed out to the judge that Springsteen-Hensel never performed a sex act on a child, but instead was there because he sent "extremely inappropriate text messages."

Schwantes said parents coming forward with reports of unusual behavior is the result of the charges becoming public. Schwantes said that actions that weren't questioned before — hugs and comments — were now viewed as devious.

"It suffers from the hindsight bias," Schwantes said.

Schwantes said that if Springsteen-Hensel was truly using the wrestling club to groom children, the courthouse would have been filled with children that Springsteen-Hensel harmed. The actual incident, Schwantes argued, involved Springsteen-Hensel sending inappropriate text message to a child 10 hours before the boy's 18th birthday.

Schwantes read some of the text messages between his client and Alonzo to Race.

In at least three of the text messages Springsteen-Hensel asked Alonzo, who he thought was the victim, if he wanted to back out, Schwantes said.

Schwantes said Springsteen-Hensel also built up the club. When Springsteen-Hensel arrived it was a "bad-news-bears organization" and is now a national powerhouse, Schwantes said.

Schwantes said in the past two years he found six cases in Walworth County where men actually had sexual contact with children and didn't receive a prison sentence or a shorter sentence than the one the PSI recommended.

Schwantes asked Race to "stay" a 10-year sentence, with five years of initial confinement and five years of extended supervision. Defendants only serve "stayed" sentences if they violate the terms of their probation.

If he violates the terms of his probation "he would go to prison for longer than adults who actually had sex with children," Schwantes said.

Springsteen-Hensel's statement

When given a chance to speak, Springsteen-Hensel apologized to the victim and his family.

"For everything I created, the pain, anger and publicity on the victim I am sincerely sorry," Springsteen-Hensel said. "I pray they can heal and move forward."

He said when he spent 29 days in jail after his arrest, he "prayed they would heal from the wounds that I created."