An Indiana man who traveled to Wisconsin multiple times two years ago for sex with a 12-year-old Cottage Grove girl was sentenced Tuesday to 25 years in federal prison for sexual exploitation of the girl that included taking videos of some of their encounters.
U.S. District Judge William Conley told Adrian C. Gardiner, 42, that he did incredible harm to the girl, whom he met online and convinced he was an 18-year-old man who had foster siblings in order to relate to the girl, who was herself in foster care.
“Seldom has the court seen a defendant engage in a more repeated horrendous conduct at the age of 41,” Conley said. “I’m having a great deal of trouble not finding him to be a continuing danger to society.”
Gardiner, of Hammond, Indiana, met the girl online and traveled repeatedly to Wisconsin to have sex with her in parks and motels. The girl said he was physically and verbally abusive at times. He took video of some of the encounters and sent one of those videos to the girl’s iPad. Gardiner claimed he did not know the girl’s age when he first came to Wisconsin, but returned to the area multiple times for sex with the girl despite knowing she was 12.
“This does not strike me as a mandatory minimum case given the facts,” Conley said, who also noted Gardiner had thwarted efforts by the girl’s foster parents to keep Gardiner away from her once they became aware of him.
Gardiner was originally charged in Dane County Circuit Court in August 2019 with four counts of first-degree sexual assault of a child, child enticement and sexual exploitation of a child. But federal authorities indicted Gardiner about two weeks later, charging him with two counts of sexual exploitation of a minor and two counts of traveling across state lines for illicit sex with a minor.
Shorter term sought
In March, Gardiner pleaded guilty to the exploitation charge. Gardiner’s attorney, Joshua Hargrove, asked for a 15-year sentence, the mandatory minimum for the crime.
In a written argument, Hargrove said Gardiner readily accepted responsibility for what he did when he was arrested. He wrote that Gardiner, when he went on the adult dating app called Fling, was not on it prowling for minors.
“Though it is clear that once he learned of the victim’s true age he did not desist from seeing her and it is for that he is most sorrowful and contrite,” Hargrove wrote. “Adrian understands the trauma and pain that the victim will have for the rest of her life.”
Since meeting Gardiner, the girl’s grandmother tearfully told Conley, the girl has struggled greatly.
“This horrible and grotesque crime that Adrian Gardiner committed against my granddaughter,” she said, “it has changed her life forever. I have spent countless days and nights trying to help my granddaughter piece back together her life.”
Now a runaway
A social worker who worked with the girl told Conley that therapy has been arranged for the girl, but she ran away about a week ago. Originally, she had intended to appear at the sentencing hearing.
“The damage he’s done to her is incalculable,” she told Conley.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Altman sought a 20-year sentence, but Conley said it wasn’t enough given that under advisory federal sentencing guidelines as applied to Gardiner, he faced a range of 30 years to life. The low end of that range is the same as the maximum sentence for the crime.
“The defendant is a sexual predator who has abused his victim and recorded it on numerous occasions,” Altman wrote in a sentencing memorandum.
Gardiner, when he spoke by video feed from the Sauk County Jail, said he was sorry.
“I just want to apologize to the family that I affected,” he said. “I’m totally sorry. I accept responsibility for what I did.”
He admitted that when he learned the girl’s age he “should have stopped all contact.”