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Former probation officer gets probation for sexual relationship with parolee
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DANE COUNTY | MISCONDUCT IN PUBLIC OFFICE

Former probation officer gets probation for sexual relationship with parolee

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A 30-year-old former state probation agent pleaded guilty Friday to felony misconduct in public office for having a sexual relationship with a parolee who had been under her supervision.

Meredith Wachtendonk

Wachtendonk

Meredith Wachtendonk had been charged with second-degree sexual assault by a probation officer, but Dane County Circuit Judge Julie Genovese accepted her plea to the lesser charge and sentenced her to 18 months of probation after the district attorney’s office and Wachtendonk’s attorney said Wachtendonk was not a threat to the public and her actions stemmed more from being “lovesick” and lonely.

“I’m so sorry,” a crying Wachtendonk told Genovese. “I never meant for any of this to happen.”

According to the criminal complaint in the case, Wachtendonk resigned from her position with the Department of Corrections after a woman accused her of helping someone under her supervision sell and transport drugs.

It later emerged that Wachtendonk told a friend and former probation agent that she had been in a relationship with a parolee, that she had rented a car in her name for the man to use, and that she knew what she was doing was wrong. Investigators later recovered messages between the two suggesting they were interested in each other romantically and that they arranged to meet at a hotel on Sept. 5, 2020.

State law and DOC rules bar relationships between probation agents or correctional officers and people under their control or supervision because of the power imbalance between offenders and those who oversee them.

Deputy District Attorney William Brown said the contact between Wachtendonk and the parolee was consensual and that Wachtendonk is “not likely to be a sexual predator” and “not likely to commit a sex offense ever again.” The maximum penalty for her offense is three and half years, but Brown recommended she get two years of probation.

Wachtendonk’s attorney, Jonas Bednarek, said that usually in cases such as Wachtendonk’s, it’s the public employee who asserts power to take advantage of someone.

“That’s not what happened in this case,” he said, describing his client as lonely during the pandemic and “lovesick.” He said she’s already lost several thousands of dollars after the parolee damaged the rental car and that while she clearly committed a crime, the man had manipulated her.

Still, in a victim impact statement, the man said he’d suffered “post traumatic issues” after the experience.

“I’ve mostly found myself not trusting figures of authority (mainly women),” he wrote. “I’ve developed trust issues with those around me whom I love.”

Bednarek dismissed the statement as “fictional.”

Wachtendonk said she’d been a mentor and worked with homeless children in the past, and that she cares deeply about injustice. But Genovese counseled her to avoid getting too wrapped up in other people’s problems.

“You really have to work on yourself,” she said.

As a condition of her probation, Wachtendonk will have to continue getting mental health treatment. Genovese is not recommending that she undergo sex-offender treatment.

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