Crime & Courts

Ex-Garden Plain coach will be tried on child sex charges

Todd Puetz
Todd Puetz

The underlying argument Thursday in the case against Todd Puetz, the once highly successful Garden Plain football coach, focused on the question of whether he thought he was meeting a 15-year-old girl for sex.

After listening to both sides, District Judge Ben Burgess said the testimony brought by the prosecution showed probable cause to believe that Puetz was responding to an advertisement that offered sex. Burgess also said that after an undercover detective told Puetz by phone three or four times that she was 15, it’s reasonable for prosecutors to argue that when he showed up at the site of the undercover sting, he expected to have sex with a 15-year-old girl.

Burgess said he found enough evidence to send the former high school coach to an Aug. 6 trial on child sex-related charges.

Puetz’s attorney, Dan Monnat, entered not-guilty pleas on Puetz’s behalf.

Earlier Thursday, Wichita police Detective Jennifer Wright testified that while she posed as a 15-year-old girl in an undercover sex sting operation last October, a caller arranged to meet her for a “date” at a house where officers arrested him. It was Puetz who later showed up at the door, she said.

Wright said the caller kept asking by phone whether she was 15, and she said she was.

Monnat, the defense attorney, kept noting that it took repeated attempts by the undercover detective to get Puetz to show up at the house on West Kellogg. Monnat seemed to be trying to lay a foundation that police entrapped Puetz. Monnat used words like “solicit,” “entice” and “coax” to describe the detective’s actions.

In November, prosecutors charged Puetz, 40, with electronic solicitation, attempted aggravated indecent liberties with a child and attempted criminal sodomy.

During questioning by Assistant District Attorney Shannon Wilson, Wright said the undercover operation that resulted in Puetz’s arrest began with a Website classified advertisement under the category of escorts. The ad listed a phone number.

The officers operating the sting set up in a three-bedroom house on West Kellogg. Just after 8 p.m. Oct. 22, Wright got a call from a man asking whether she was available.

When he asked her age, she said 15. He kept asking her age, and she kept telling him 15.

They discussed how much he would pay – $120 for an hour – and he said he wanted “whatever I can get,” Wright testified. She said she was open to almost any kind of sex and listed three different kinds.

They began to arrange for their meeting. There would be several calls between them.

More than once, the man asked whether she was a cop or associated with cops, Wright said.

Through a set of circumstances, a marked police car ended up outside the home where he was to meet her. The caller apparently had seen the police car and told her he was going to “pass” on their getting together. He asked again whether she was a cop, and she again said she wasn’t.

He said he was leery because she said she was 15 and because of the marked police car, Wright testified.

Wilson, the prosecutor, then played for the judge a recording of the phone conversations between Wright, working undercover, and the caller. Wright told the caller that she and another 15-year-old girl were staying with a trucker who was gone, that she was a bored, that she was a runaway. Referring to sex, she said, “I’m real good at all of it.”

During one of the calls, the man said he was going to come see her, that he was almost to the location she described to him.

“Sure you’re not cops?” he asked again.

She told him from inside the house, “Just come on in.”

Wright testified that a man came to the door, and as he stepped into a room, he had a smile on his face. A “take-down” team of officers clearly dressed as law enforcement came in, ordered him to get down and took him into custody. He complied.

Authorities identified the man as Puetz.

When Monnat, the defense attorney, got to question Wright, she said that besides having a smile on his face when he came into the house, Puetz said, “I knew you weren’t 15.”

Through questioning, Monnat noted that the caller asked whether she was 18 and said he would “pass” on meeting her, but that she kept calling the man back.

Monnat said she “solicited the caller” and lied to him and kept trying to persuade him to come to the house. During one of the questions, Monnat said, “you pursue him” when he was not interested.

He noted that Wright told the caller he was good looking and called him “sweetie” and “baby.”

Wichita police Detective William Riddle testified that during an interrogation at the sting house, Puetz agreed to speak to Riddle and said the number used by the caller speaking with the undercover officer was his. Puetz also acknowledged that the person on the phone told him she was 15 and spoke about sex, Riddle said.

Riddle testified that Puetz told him he came to the sting house to help the two girls supposedly there, that he was going to give money to the person he had been speaking with to help her.

The Renwick school district board, after suspending Puetz without pay last fall, has passed a resolution of intent not to renew his contract for next school year, said school superintendent Tracy Bourne. The district has hired a new football coach for next season. Puetz had also been athletic director and a physical education teacher.

Authorities arrested Puetz and six other men in October in a two-day sting operation.

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