by CHRIS ROGERS

 

Former Winona pastor Rick Diego Iglesias pled guilty today to repeatedly sexually abusing a child under 16, but whether he will be sentenced to prison time remains to be seen.

Iglesias, the 66-year-old former pastor of Pleasant Valley Church, was charged in 2019 with three counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct after the victim told Winona Police Department investigators they were repeatedly abused from 2010 to 2012. A witness, Iglesias’ former boss at a Pennsylvania church, testified that Iglesias admitted to the crimes. Iglesias was charged with the highest-level sex crimes under Minnesota law because, prosecutors initially alleged, he held “a position of authority” over the victim and the victim was under 16. He pled not guilty earlier this year.

Under a plea deal announced today, the Winona County Attorney’s Office dropped the three original, first-degree charges, and Iglesias pled guilty to a lower but still serious charge of second-degree criminal sexual conduct.

Iglesias admitted he held a “significant relationship” over the victim beyond just being a pastor, and that the victim was under 16 at the time. Iglesias admitted to multiple instances of sexually abusing the minor over an extended period of time.

“Your reason for [pleading guilty] is primarily that you don’t want to put the victim through the trauma of having a trial, is that correct?” defense attorney Kurt Knuesel asked his client. “Yes,” Iglesias testified.

The plea deal leaves Iglesias’ sentence to be determined. The maximum sentence is 25 years in prison, and Leahy said the presumptive sentence in this case would be 7.5-15 years in prison. The three charges that were dropped carried penalties of up to 30 years each.

Knuesel hopes to persuade the court to sentence Iglesias to probation alone, with a stayed sentence hanging over his head if he violates probation. Prosecutor Christina Galewski said she’ll seek prison time.

“The victim would like a lengthy prison sentence,” Galewski said. “The victim really doesn’t want a probationary sentence.”

Galewski said she and the victim talked over the risks and impacts of going to trial, including the possibility of being called to testify and the uncertainty of the trial’s outcome. “Overall, with that understanding, the victim would like more, but is OK with this agreement,” Galewski told Leahy.

As is typical, the Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC) will complete a pre-sentence investigation and make a sentencing recommendation to the court. At Knuesel’s suggestion, Leahy asked the DOC to include recommended probation conditions in case the court opts for probation, in addition to the default recommendation of prison time. The victim will also have the opportunity to give the Leahy input on the sentence.

A sentencing hearing is scheduled for October 13.

Chris@winonapost.com