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Hiring draws fire
Sonnenberg defends employment of accused Internet sex predator
STERLING — Sixty-fifth District Representative Jerry Sonnenberg has recently taken some heat for his hiring of a Grand Junction man suspected as an Internet sex predator. Sonnenberg said it is an issue only because he is an elected official.
“The gentleman in question has worked for me for 35 years,” Sonnenberg said recently.
The questions started when Sonnenberg employed Johnnie Walker, formerly the athletic director at Grand Junction High School, to work during harvest at Sonnenberg’s farm in Logan County.
Sonnenberg and Walker have known each other since high school, and, according to Sonnenberg, Walker has been working for him for the past 35 years. Sonnenberg said that when Walker first came under suspicion for Internet luring, he resigned from the school. Since then, he has lost his home because he cannot work. The case against Walker was dropped, then reopened earlier this year, Sonnenberg said.
Sonnenberg stressed that he did contact Walker’s attorney to arrange for Walker to work in Logan County. Early in July, the Grand Junction Free Press reported that District Judge Thomas Deister confirmed that Walker could work on Sonnenberg’s farm.
Sonnenberg maintains the relationship with Walker would not be an issue if he were not an elected official.
“This issue seems to have gotten so much attention because I am an elected official,” he said in a written statement. “I work hard every day to make an honest living and also to serve the people of my district. Nothing has changed that and nothing will change that. I am accountable to the citizens that I respect, and ultimately I’m accountable to God.”
Sonnenberg stressed that he followed the “correct legal procedure, given the circumstances” for Walker to keep working on the Sonnenberg farm. He said the media forgets that this country is based on people being innocent until proven guilty.
Part of the issue, according to the Grand Junction newspaper, is that Walker would potentially be in contact with Sonnenberg’s sons, ages 13 and 17. Walker was arrested in April 2007 on allegations that he “engaged in sexually explicit Internet chat with a person he believed to be a 14-year-old girl,” according to the Free Press.
Sonnenberg said he will not change his approach to representing people of the 65th District. He will be the no-nonsense, compassionate conservative he believes voters elected him to be.
“My constituents expect me to work on fixing our roads; dealing with the Republican River to protect the livelihood of our farmers; finding ways to keep Colorado’s water in Colorado; and defending our constitution,” Sonnenberg said. “That is what I intend to continue doing.”
Walker had withdrawn his not guilty plea at the advice of his attorney, Colleen Scissors, over concerns about the availability of a defense expert.
Forrest Hershberger: firstname.lastname@example.org; (970) 526-9280