MANKATO — Three videos used to justify child pornography charges against Minnesota State University’s head football coach are nothing more than recordings of family fun and silliness, says Todd Hoffner’s wife.
Hoffner, 46, was arrested Aug. 21 when investigators arrived to search his house in Eagle Lake. The search, and charges of creating and possessing child pornography that followed the next day, resulted from three videos found on an MSU cellphone issued to Hoffner. Two of those videos showed Hoffner’s three children, all under the age of 10, in the nude.
Melodee Hoffner read a prepared statement during a news conference Monday at the Maschka, Riedy and Ries law offices. She was introduced by Jerry Maschka, who said she could not respond to questions due to the serious charges pending against her husband. Todd Hoffner was released from jail Wednesday after he posted a $40,000 bond for his unconditional release.
“She will explain to you that these charges are based on nothing other than normal and typical family videos showing her children having fun and acting silly,” Maschka said. “There’s nothing inappropriate, in the context of family interaction, and Coach Hoffner has been wrongly accused.
“We believe that these charges result from a cascade of decisions which were made by well-intentioned individuals and resulted in a terrible mistake.”
Maschka also said Todd Hoffner is working with the university to “address, clarify and correct this situation” and Maschka expects the university to reinstate Hoffner as head football coach.
Calling the Mankato area a great place to raise her children, Melodee Hoffner said the charges filed against her husband are “ridiculous and baseless.”
She said she and her husband had no idea why he was placed on administrative leave and escorted off a university practice field Aug. 17. When investigators from the Blue Earth County Sheriff’s and Mankato Police departments showed up to search their house and arrest her husband Aug. 21, they were both “in complete shock,” Melodee Hoffner said.
“When the police executed the warrant at our home, a deputy told me that there were videos of our children found on Todd’s cellphone,” she said. “He described what he had found. I thought, ‘Those are our family videos they are talking about.’”
One of the videos allegedly showed Hoffner’s son fondling himself and their two daughters spreading their buttocks in front of the camera, according to the criminal complaint. Affidavits requesting warrants to search the Hoffners’ house and a car said Assistant Blue Earth County Attorney Mike Hanson was consulted after the videos were found. The videos were discovered by MSU technicians attempting to transfer files to a new phone for Hoffner.
Hanson “expressed the opinion that the videos of the children dancing constituted the manufacturing of child pornography,” the affidavit said.
Hanson declined to comment after Todd Hoffner’s court appearance Wednesday. Hanson is out of the office this week and didn’t immediately return a phone message Monday requesting comment.
The affidavits also said Jason Bennett, a Mankato police detective who has been trained to search for computer files containing child pornography, assisted with the search. He was asked to help “in an effort to mitigate the quantity of items seized and to help minimize the overall impact to the family.”
Two computers, a cellphone, two cameras, a camcorder, computer storage devices and a large storage container full of compact disks, DVDs and videotapes were confiscated when the house and garage were searched, according to a list of items taken by investigators.
When Eagle Lake Police Chief Phil Wills and Sheriff’s Det. Paul Barta arrived at the Hoffners’ house on Perry Street, the Hoffners’ car was parked half in the garage and half out, according to the affidavit requesting a search warrant for the car. Todd Hoffner left the house through a back or side door and put electronic devices in the back seat of the car while Wills was knocking on the front door. That information was used to justify taking the car and searching it.
A Charter Communications remote control, a wireless cable modem, a cable television receiver box and a thumb drive were taken during that search, according to court documents.
It will take a long time to search through everything that was taken, said Capt. Rich Murry of the Blue Earth County Sheriff’s Department. He also said, as of the end of last week, investigators hadn’t found any evidence of nude photographs or videos of other children.
Jason Kohlmeyer, a Mankato defense attorney who isn’t involved with the Hoffner case, said child pornographers tend to be collectors. So it’s odd to have a case where only a few videos, especially videos of children of the person charged, are cited as grounds for criminal charges. Investigators usually find dozens, if not hundreds or thousands, of photographs or videos during an initial search, Kohlmeyer said.
“You ask most criminal defense lawyers and they’ll tell you it’s usually a slam dunk or it’s not,” he said. “We don’t know what’s on the computer. That’s going to be telling.”
Barta’s affidavits did say he was only providing the information necessary to justify the searches. Both warrants were signed by District Court Judge George Harrelson.
Melodee Hoffner, who is a counselor at East High School, said she is confident her children, ages 9, 8 and 5, were not abused or exploited by her husband.
“I am a licensed school counselor and I’m fully aware of the signs and indicators of children who have been abused. And I assure you, our children have not been exploited or abused,” she said. “They are healthy physically, mentally and emotionally and have normal relationships with friends, family and teachers.
“My family does what every family does — we take videos and pictures of our kids in all their craziness.”
The third video in the criminal complaint shows one of the Hoffners’ daughters being woken up to go to the bathroom. The video shows the camera focusing on the girl’s underwear, the complaint said.
The video was shot because their daughter wanted to see it, Melodee Hoffner said.
“When we would wake her up, she would be half asleep and would bump into walls and such and not remember it,” she said. “When we told her about this, she wanted to see it. She was clothed in this video. That’s one of the videos described in the complaint against my husband.
“I hope someone with authority will take a new look at this and see it for what it is.”
Jim Fleming, the Maschka, Riedy and Ries attorney representing Hoffner, wouldn’t comment on whether Todd Hoffner plans to take any legal action in civil court to be reinstated as head football coach.