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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: fhershberger@journal-advocate.com; (970) 526-9280

Comments

Posted by rebel on August 9, 2008 at 5:28 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I knew a guy for a lot of years too, he turned out to be a child molester, knew a guy that killed his wife, not a clue.. not like they are going to advertise their deeds. But, won't hold that against you Jerry, He has not been to trial, so presumed innocent.

Posted by neverbackdown on August 10, 2008 at 4:06 a.m. (Suggest removal)

i know of both men.i think Jerry has done a great job so far. as for John i was shocked when i heard the news,even more shocked when i read the stories on what when down.just go to google and put in john walker in grand junction colorado and you can read about it all.Jerry keep up the good work someday we might be calling you Gov. as for John i hope those stories are wrong and you can clear your name and get a new start in life.

Posted by peetz on August 10, 2008 at 6:54 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Great reporting J.A.!

Getting down on those conservative candidates!!! Nice mud raking! Oops, I meant mice mud slinging.

Our own hometown MSM helping out the democrats? Who wudda thunk it?!?

Wonder what you'll dig up on the democrat. Oh, that's right... Can't find anything when you're not looking... wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

Hope your democrat masters throw you an extra bone at the convention. You deserve it.

Posted by donelleh on August 10, 2008 at 6:55 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I am disappointed that the J-A views this as news. It is nothing more than an attempt to encourage gossip and question the actions of a state legislator who tirelessly advocates for issues important to this community. I am proud to know both of these men who are proud to call Sterling home. Shame on you J-A editor and publisher --- it must be fulfilling in a sick sort of way to know how many people you affect negatively with this kind of press.

Posted by voice_of_reason on August 14, 2008 at 3:48 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Good for you Jerry, for not condemning a presumed innocent man! I can't figure out why cops enjoy posing as little girls on the internet so much, just so they can entrap people? Walker wasn't lewd to a 14-year old girl, it was cop trying to snare somebody and make the news. Almost all of these cases don't even involve minors! Law enforcement should go out and find real predators.

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