Wisconsin Prosecutor 'Sexted' Abuse Victim

September 15, 2010 - 5:15 PM

Calumet County, District Attorney Kenneth Kratz

This March 2007 file photo shows Calumet County District Attorney Kenneth Kratz giving his closing argument in the Steven Avery trial in the courtroom in Chilton, Wis. Police say Kratz sent repeated text messages trying to spark an affair with a domestic abuse victim while he was prosecuting her ex-boyfriend. (AP Photo/Morry Gash, File)

Chilton, Wis. (AP) - A prominent Wisconsin district attorney sent repeated text messages trying to spark an affair with a domestic abuse victim while he was prosecuting her ex-boyfriend, a police report shows.

The 26-year-old woman complained last year to police after receiving 30 texts from Calumet County District Attorney Kenneth Kratz in three days, according to the report obtained by The Associated Press.

"Are you the kind of girl that likes secret contact with an older married elected DA ... the riskier the better?" Kratz, 50, wrote in a message to Stephanie Van Groll in October 2009. In another, he wrote: "I would not expect you to be the other woman. I would want you to be so hot and treat me so well that you'd be THE woman! R U that good?"

Kratz was prosecuting Van Groll's ex-boyfriend on charges he nearly choked her to death last year. He also was veteran chair of the Wisconsin Crime Victims' Rights Board, a quasi-judicial agency that can reprimand judges, prosecutors and police officers who mistreat crime victims.

In a combative interview in his office Wednesday, Kratz did not deny sending the messages and expressed concern their publication would unfairly embarrass him personally and professionally. He said the Office of Lawyer Regulation had found he did not violate any rules governing attorney misconduct. That office cannot comment on investigations.

"This is a non-news story," Kratz shouted. But he added, "I'm worried about it because of my reputational interests. I'm worried about it because of my 25 years as a prosecutor."

Van Groll told police in Kaukauna, Wis., where she lived, that she felt pressured to have a relationship with Kratz or he would drop the charges against her ex-boyfriend.

Kratz then removed himself from that prosecution and the state Department of Justice took over. He resigned from the crime victims board, which he helped create, after more than a decade as chair. He and his wife filed for divorce last December, although he said they were separated when the messages were sent.

Kratz has remained the top prosecutor based in Chilton, where he has served since 1992 and earns a $105,000 salary. Kratz, a Republican, said he intends to run for re-election in November 2012.

"Nothing really happened to him and I had three days of hell," Van Groll said in a phone interview with the AP. "They gave him a slap on the wrist and told him not to do it again. If it was anybody else that did something like this, they'd lose their job."

Domestic violence experts called Kratz's text messages disturbing and unethical for several reasons, including the power differential between a prosecutor and a younger abuse victim.

"If what's being alleged is true, it's sad a prosecutor would use the same sort of power and control over a woman who has already experienced that in her personal life," said Patti Seger, executive director of the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

Kratz may be best known for prosecuting Steven Avery in the 2005 killing of Teresa Halbach, a 25-year-old photographer. The case won national attention because Avery had spent 18 years behind bars for a rape he did not commit in a separate case before DNA evidence implicated someone else. Kratz received glowing media attention and flirted with a run for Congress in 2008.

Last year, around the time he was texting Van Groll, Kratz was back in the spotlight for prosecuting a woman who worked with others to lure a boyfriend to a hotel room and glued his penis to his stomach as revenge for his cheating.

In the interview, Kratz said he was proud he helped achieve legislation creating the first-of-its-kind crime victims' board and that he had dedicated his career to their cause.

"I wrote the law on crime victims in Wisconsin," he said, pointing to a picture of him with former Gov. Tommy Thompson signing that law. "That's the irony here."

A spokeswoman said the board has not received a complaint about Kratz and is not investigating his conduct toward Van Groll.

Kratz cited an undisclosed conflict of interest in stepping away from the abuse case after Van Groll reported the text messages, court records show. An assistant state attorney general acted as special prosecutor and won a conviction on one felony count of strangulation against the man, Shannon Konitzer.

Van Groll said Kratz sent the first text minutes after she left his office, where he had interviewed her about the case.

He said it was nice talking and "you have such potential," signing the message "KEN (your favorite DA)." Twenty minutes later, he added, "I wish you weren't one of this office's clients. You'd be a cool person to know!" But he quickly tried to start a relationship and told her to keep quiet about the texts.

Van Groll at first was polite, saying Kratz was "a nice person" and thanking him for praise. By the second day, she responded with answers such as "dono" or "no." Kratz questioned whether her "low self-esteem" was to blame for the lack of interest.

"I'm serious! I'm the atty. I have the $350,000 house. I have the 6-figure career. You may be the tall, young, hot nymph, but I am the prize!" he texted.

Kratz told her the relationship would unfold slow enough for "Shannon's case to get done." "Remember it would have to be special enough to risk all," he wrote.

Van Groll said she went to police on the third day after the messages started becoming "kind of vulgar." She provided copies of 30 messages and her responses, which the department released in response to an AP request.

"Stephanie feels afraid that if she doesn't do what he wants Kratz will throw out her whole case," an officer who interviewed Van Groll wrote.

The department referred the complaint to the state Division of Criminal Investigation because it works with Kratz's office on prosecutions. Van Groll, a college student and part-time preschool teacher who has moved to Merrill, said she has been told Kratz won't be charged because "they didn't think he did anything criminally wrong."

Kratz on Wednesday waved a copy of what he said was a report by legal regulators that cleared him. He would not give a copy to AP, and slammed the door to his office when the interview was over.