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Ex-aide to Kinder pleads guilty to Internet porn charge

Thursday, August 7, 2008 | 4:46 p.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY - The former chief of staff for Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder pleaded guilty Thursday to displaying sexually explicit materials and was placed on probation.

Eric Feltner, 40, of Columbia, resigned in June after news broke that he had been charged with two misdemeanor counts of attempting to provide pornography to a minor.

On Thursday, those charges were replaced with a single new misdemeanor charge of public display of explicit sexual material.

A Cole County judge sentenced Feltner to six months in jail. But according to the terms of a plea arrangement, Judge Richard Callahan suspended the jail time on the condition that Feltner completes two years of unsupervised probation, 100 hours of community service within the next six months and refrains from using the Internet except for business purposes while on probation.

Cole County Prosecutor Mark Richardson said the guilty plea will, as a consequence, require Feltner to register on a state-maintained list of sex offenders.

Feltner quietly acknowledged to the judge that the charge against him was true as he pleaded guilty. But he offered no further explanation in court and declined to comment to a reporter both before and after his court appearance.

A probable cause statement filed in May by police says Feltner that believed he was contacting a 13-year-old girl over the Internet, but that person really was an undercover officer. Feltner was accused of graphically discussing masturbation and sexual stimulation in the written Internet messages.

He was charged May 21 but continued to work in Kinder's office until the charges were first publicly reported June 6. Kinder said he did not learn of the charges until that day, and Feltner then resigned at his request.

"It is my hope that this case will serve as a deterrent for others who would prey on children via the Internet and make it clear that there is a zero-tolerance policy in state government for this kind of disgusting behavior," Kinder said Thursday in a written statement.

According to the original charges and probable cause statement, Feltner used the screen name "thebestinmo" for a sexually explicit Internet chat on May 25, 2007, with someone he believed was a minor. The original court documents also alleged a second sexually explicit Internet conversation occurred in July 2007.

The revised charge only references the May 2007 instance, which it describes as "explicit written directions and descriptions of oral and manual stimulation of the vagina."

But the new charge is Class A misdemeanor, which carried a potential maximum punishment of up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. The original charges were Class C misdemeanors, each punishable by no more than 15 days in jail and a $300 fine.

Asked why Feltner agreed to plead guilty to a higher-level misdemeanor, his attorney Lorri Kline said only that "it's beneficial" to him.

Richardson said prosecutors agreed to trade two lesser charges for one higher-level charge to gain the guilty plea and because it still ensured his registration as a sex offender.

Feltner had served as Kinder's chief of staff since Dec. 17 and had worked for him since shortly after Kinder took office in January 2005, initially serving a deputy lieutenant governor and an advocate for senior citizens.

Kinder has said a computer review by the Office of Administration found no indication Feltner had used state resources for the sexually oriented Internet conversations. State records show Feltner took off work during the time the Internet conversations allegedly occurred.

Feltner previously was a district director and the 1996 campaign manager for Republican U.S. Rep. Kenny Hulshof, who this year is running for governor. Feltner also directed the state House Republican Campaign Committee for four years.

 


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