RACINE — Curt Johnson, an heir to the Johnson family household products fortune, will spend Father’s Day in jail for inappropriately touching his teenage stepdaughter for several years.
It was a sentencing that some in the community thought might never occur.
Despite the teen’s, her mother’s and her biological father’s failure to cooperate with prosecutors, their refusal to turn over the girl’s medical records for a judge’s private review, no psychological treatment records for Johnson, and his Arizona therapy clinic’s refusal to even divulge to Racine County prosecutors the name of Johnson’s treating therapist, Johnson was sentenced Friday to four months in the Racine County Jail.
“I’d like to deeply apologize to my stepdaughter, (teen’s name), and my wife ... for the tremendous hurt I have caused,” Curt Johnson said in a quiet tone during the sentencing.
Johnson, 59, was accused of molesting his teenage stepdaughter for three years, starting when she was 12 years old, while she and her mother lived in Racine County. Johnson, of Wind Point, is the former chairman of Diversey Inc. and a son of the late SC Johnson chairman, Sam Johnson.
Curt Johnson originally was charged with repeated sexual assault of the same child, a felony.
The teen, now 19, and her mother currently live in North Carolina. Her mother is still married to Curt Johnson.
Judge blasts Johnson
Racine County Circuit Court Judge Eugene Gasiorkiewicz handed down a tongue-lashing to Johnson, in addition to his jail term. Gasiorkiewicz also sentenced him to pay a $6,000 fine after Johnson pleaded guilty to two amended charges: fourth-degree sexual assault of a child and disorderly conduct, both misdemeanors.
“There can be no question here that what you’ve done is wrong. So very, very wrong,” Gasiorkiewicz blasted down at Johnson before sentencing him.
Johnson won’t have to register as a sex offender because it’s not required by law.
“Sexual abuse is never the child’s fault. The fault always lies with the offender,” Gasiorkiewicz told Johnson. “She trusted you. And what did you do? You failed that trust.”
Gasiorkiewicz said Curt Johnson’s wife confronted him about her daughter’s accusation, in part, “because she was fearful it would happen to the other children.”
Johnson faced a maximum of nine months in jail on the misdemeanor fourth-degree sexual assault charge, and up to 90 days in jail on the disorderly conduct charge.
Assistant District Attorney Robert Repischak called for consecutive sentences of nine months plus 90 days in jail, for the maximum sentence of one year in jail.
He argued that Johnson’s actions violated the trust his stepdaughter, his wife, and his family had in Johnson.
“This was not a one-time event. This contact occurred on a number of occasions. There was a request for sexual intercourse, which of course, was denied by (the victim),” Repischak said during the sentencing as the teen’s mother — Johnson’s wife — looked on from the back of the courtroom.
The teen was saving herself for marriage, he explained, and had taken “a vow of purity to stay celibate until marriage. ...(The teen’s virginity was) to be a gift to her future spouse.”
But defense attorney Michael Hart argued that Johnson has no prior criminal record and immediately sought treatment and counseling.
Hart argued that four months was a more appropriate sentence.
“If the court were to sentence him to five days, those would be five days like he has never seen,” Hart said of Johnson.
Hart said that — save for this case — Johnson has been a community leader. And he since has taken “every step” to restore his family and his community’s faith in him, Hart said.
Gasiorkiewicz said he believed Curt Johnson’s apology was genuine. Then he rattled off a litany of letters from Johnson’s family and supporters, such as his mother and ex-wife, which Gasiorkiewicz said did not mention Johnson’s stepdaughter.
“(The letters) talked about how the has affected you. How it has affected your reputation,” Gasiorkiewicz said. “But nothing has been said of the effect on the victim. The effect on the victim is what’s important to this court.”
Gasiorkiewicz said family matriarch Imogene “Gene” Johnson asked for leniency for her son.
“She said you’ve been punished enough. Your former wife, Pamela, asked for mercy, as well,” Gasiorkiewicz said. “This is a court of justice. This is not one of mercy.”
Johnson’s prosecution was on hold in Racine County for a couple of years during its more than three-year pendency.
Rulings in this case triggered appeals to Wisconsin’s Court of Appeals and state Supreme Court. Earlier this year, Johnson’s attorneys went to court in Arizona, seeking to block the release of Johnson’s therapy records. Staff at the clinic where Johnson sought counseling also sought to block Johnson’s still-unidentified therapist from testifying in Wisconsin.
This case still is pending before Arizona’s appellate court.
Johnson must report to the Racine County Jail on June 14, the day before Father’s Day, to begin serving his four-month term.
Johnson declined comment after the sentencing. His mother also declined to comment.
“I thought it was a very fair and well thought-through sentence,” Hart said after the hearing.
He declined to comment on why they agreed to take the plea deal despite the prosecutor’s lack of available evidence.
“I’m happy that it’s resolved,” Repischak said after the sentencing. “Obviously I would have liked to have had the chance to present a felony case to a jury.
“Given the state of the case — not having a victim and really little if any evidence — I was happy to resolve it in the way that it was.”
He said he received a “mixed reaction” from the public to his efforts to prosecute Johnson. He said some wished him luck, while some “almost mocked me — that I was on a fool’s errand and I would never convict him in this county. I told them you have to have more faith in the system than what you’re displaying.”
Curt Johnson Case Timeline
- Racine County Circuit Court Judge Eugene Gasiorkiewicz ruled in November 2011 that Curt Johnson’s attorneys could seek his stepdaughter’s medical records, and Gasiorkiewicz would review them privately. Then Gasiorkiewicz would have determined whether those records contained any information potentially relevant to the criminal case.
Gasiorkiewicz has said he would have revealed that information to lawyers on both sides, but his decision was appealed.
- A Court of Appeals ruling in April 2012 stated that Johnson’s stepdaughter shall not testify in court unless she first agrees to release her medical records.
- The Wisconsin Department of Justice, on May 17, 2012, petitioned the Wisconsin Supreme Court to review this appellate court ruling.
- Both sides argued before state Supreme Court on Feb. 25, 2013.
- The justices’ decision was released July 3, 2013: she may testify without first releasing her records. Later that month, cross motions were filed regarding that decision and one dealing with jury instructions.
- Johnson’s trial was set to begin Jan. 6, 2014, but then it was canceled as the case was still pending before the state Supreme Court.
- Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled March 26, 2014, that Johnson’s stepdaughter could not testify against him unless first releasing her medical records — reversing itself.
- Gasiorkiewicz set Johnson’s trial for July 14, 2014, saying he would not hold the “case in abeyance until” a set of appeals in Arizona was concluded.
- Racine County Assistant District Attorney Robert Repischak on May 29, 2014, filed a justification for amendment of charges and a proposed resolution to the felony case.
- Johnson was sentenced June 6, 2014, to four months in jail and a $6,000 fine on two downgraded misdemeanor charges.
- Johnson must report to the Racine County Jail on June 14.