Former Garden Plain football coach Todd Puetz told a Sedgwick County jury Wednesday that he wasn’t looking for sex when he went to a house where undercover police officers were posing as underage prostitutes.
“I was going there to try to help them out,” he told the jury. “I would’ve given them the money I had, and I would have called police.”
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.
He is charged with felony counts of electronic solicitation of a child, attempted aggravated indecent liberties with a child and attempted criminal sodomy.
“Did you electronically solicit anyone you believed to be less than 16 years of age?” defense lawyer Dan Monnat asked.
“No,” Puetz replied.
“Did you attempt to take indecent liberties or commit sodomy with anyone you believed to be under 16 years of age?”
The state’s case against Puetz was based primarily on the testimony of Wichita police Detective Jennifer Wright, who posed as a 15-year-old girl during the operation.
She told the jury that Puetz replied to an ad she placed in the escort section of the backpage.com Internet website. After a series of phone calls, she testified, Puetz was arrested on Oct. 22, 2011, after he arrived at a house in the 15100 block of West Kellogg where the sting operation was being conducted.
Puetz told the jury that he turned to massage therapy to alleviate anxieties that were caused in part by being the coach of a winning football program that won a state title in 2007.
On the day of his arrest, he said, he drove to Lyons for a volleyball tournament and stopped at a junior college football game in Hutchinson on the way back. He said his wife and most of their seven children were attending a wedding in El Dorado that day.
Puetz said he turned to backpage.com when he got home that night to find someone who could give him a massage. He told Monnat that he called several numbers listed in ads. He said there was nothing special in the ad placed by Wright.
“It was just the next one in line,” he said.
The trial is being held in the courtroom of District Judge Ben Burgess.
A juror in the case was allowed to remain on the jury panel Wednesday despite the fact that a nephew of his was arrested this week in Indiana under circumstances similar to those faced by Puetz.
The juror said he learned Tuesday night that a nephew who works as a teacher and basketball coach in Indiana was arrested Monday night on indecent liberties charges.
Burgess ruled that the juror could remain on the case after he assured Burgess and lawyers on both sides that the arrest would not influence his decision in the trial.
“I don’t think that it’ll affect my decision at all,” he said outside the presence of the other jurors. “I just thought you should know.”
Of the seven men arrested in the sting, prosecutors dismissed charges against one, and another was found not guilty by a jury. Four of the defendants are awaiting trial.