A Hermantown man was sentenced Friday to 15 years in prison for obtaining sexual favors from the boys in his charge at The Hills treatment facility in Duluth.
“The harm you caused will reach beyond individual victims,” Sixth Judicial District Judge Theresa Neo told Mark David Painter, 29, before sentencing him on five felony counts of third-degree criminal sexual conduct. “You harmed their families, who believed they were getting help for their children.”
The sentences imposed on the various charges ranged from four to 15 years, but they will be served concurrently. He was given credit for 268 days served in jail and must serve at least two-thirds of the sentence before possible early release for good behavior. But he will be on “conditional release for life,” Neo said, and will have to register as a sexual predator.
In a plea agreement, Painter pleaded guilty in State District Court on Nov. 4 to the charges. He acknowledged performing sexual acts on the victims, ranging in age from 13 to 17, in exchange for cigarettes, drugs, tattoo supplies and access to a cellphone or laptop. Three first-degree criminal sexual conduct charges were dropped.
No particular sentence was stipulated at the time, but on Friday defense attorney Andrew Leone of Chanhassen, Minnesota, and St. Louis County prosecutor Jon Holets offered different takes on what would be appropriate. Leone argued for a sentence of 41-57 months, saying that legally the crimes constituted a single incident during the same course of events.
Holets argued that the crimes should be treated as five separate events, which would mean a guideline sentence of 153-180 months.
Neo firmly agreed with the prosecution. “There were five victims,” she said. “This was not one course of conduct; not one incident.”
None of the victims or family members appeared in court. But a statement from the stepmother of one of the victims was read by Anne Fisk, victim/witness coordinator in the St. Louis County Attorney’s Office. The statement told of the woman holding her stepson last summer after he overdosed on methamphetamine and synthetic opioids.
“He kept screaming that he couldn’t be a man anymore,” Fisk read. “He fears he cannot be intimate with a woman because of the abuse.”
The statement told of the victim suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and having nightmares that caused him to scream so loudly that the neighbors called the police.
Holets had a statement from that victim, but said he was paraphrasing the victim’s points.
“Victim one has lost faith in the system that was supposed to help him recover,” Holets said. “He almost died last summer when he OD’d. He needed Narcan to bring him back.”
The Hills offers residential and day treatment for youths with behavioral or mental health needs, including some who have substance abuse issues. Formerly known as Woodland Hills, it is located at 4321 Allendale Ave.
Painter had been hired as a youth counselor there in March 2018 and was arrested in July of that year.
An investigation had been launched after three boys who ran away from the facility told police about the incidents involving Painter, according to court documents.
After the sentencing, Painter was handcuffed and led away. Two family members who had arrived with Painter filed out into the fourth floor of the courthouse along with a handful of others who had attended the hearing.
Incongruously, photos were being taken on the other side of the fourth floor where a wedding ceremony had just concluded. Leone guided the two women through the celebrating group and returned to speak on Painter’s behalf.
“This wasn’t a situation where there were any winners,” Leone said.
Of Painter’s decision to accept a plea bargain, Leone said, “He entered the plea in order to make sure no individuals would have to come into court and testify.”