Escalante gets three years in prison for sex offense

Keshena man pleaded guilty in April

Kevin Murphy Leader Correspondent

A Keshena man was sentenced recently in federal court in Green Bay to three years in prison and five years’ supervised release for attempted abusive sexual contact with a minor female.

Mario Escalante, 42, pleaded guilty in April to the incidents that occurred between July 2015 and June 2016 with a girl who was less than 16 years old.

In sentencing Escalante on Nov. 3, District Judge William Griesbach called Escalante’s offense, a series of “reprehensible acts.” He noted the impact of the crime on the victim and the victim’s family, and that Escalante betrayed the victim’s trust, and the victim’s family who trusted him with supervising the girl, according to a statement issued Friday by the U.S. Attorney’s office.

According to the plea agreement filed in court:

The girl told Menominee Tribal police that Escalante began engaging what he called “snuggling” with her when she was approximately 12 years old and continued past her 17th birthday.

The “snuggling” involved Escalante grinding himself against the girl’s body. Escalante would periodically text her to request they meet in order to “snuggle.”

The incidents occurred in the girl’s home in Keshena.

When the girl told tribal police about Escalante, they began to investigate. Last November, a detective, acting as if he were the girl, texted Escalante, which led Escalante agreeing to pay $60 in exchange for the next “snuggle.”

Escalante was arrested when he arrived at the designated location anticipating a “snuggle” session. When searched, authorities recovered $60 in cash, a receipt showing Escalante withdrew $60 from an area credit union shortly after texting about the meet up, and a cellphone.

Questioned by FBI and tribal investigators, Escalante admitted to prior sexual contacts with the girl and agreeing by text to pay $60 in exchange for sexual acts.

In a sentencing memo written by Escalante’s attorney, Federal Defender Krista Halla-Valdes, disputed that her client had any abusive sexual contact with the girl before she turned 15 years old and that he never had sexual intercourse with her or suggested it.

“By no means does this make what he did do less despicable, but in terms of the range of criminal offenses involving sex with minors, this certainly places Mr. Escalante’s conduct on the lesser side of the scale as evident by the maximum penalty being two years and the parties agreeing to a total of three years as to both counts,” Halla-Valdes wrote.

The attorney also wrote that, Escalante continued to engage in the behavior because the girl “allowed him to do so.” And, at times when the girl needed money, she admitted to texting Escalante asking him to “snuggle” in exchange for money.

Escalante was indicted in January for attempting to entice a minor female to perform sex acts for money, and faced a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison and up to lifetime supervised release.

Instead, he pleaded guilty to the abusive sexual contact charges, which have less severe penalties.

Halla-Vales also wrote that:

• Escalante has worked at the North Star Casino in Bowler, with the exception of 18 months between 2006 and 2008. He met his current wife there in 2002, and they have two children.

• In the summer of 2017, Escalante’s wife kicked him out of the house for cheating with another woman, which is when the abusive sexual contact took place.

• Escalante “is ashamed and embarrassed by what he has done,” and as a registered sex offender knows it will impact his getting a job when he is released from prison.

• The girl has finished high school and will attend college, and hopefully has moved on with her life.

• Escalante’s wife filed for divorce but put proceedings on hold pending the outcome of his criminal case. Escalante, who has been detained since November, hopes to rebuild his family after prison.