Bill Jacobs knew he had the ability to control the sexual desires that led him to abuse positions of trust and authority when he molested the son of a family friend, the most recent among scores of victims spanning decades.
"I don't understand why it is that I have this curse," the former Minneapolis Park Police chief told Judge Daniel Moreno on Monday. "But I know with 100 percent certainty that I could have taken the adequate steps to prevent the curse from hurting others."
But he didn't, Moreno reasoned, which is why he sentenced the former teacher and camp counselor to 18 years in prison for molesting the boy for three years. It was the maximum possible sentence for Jacobs, 68, of Deephaven, who struck a plea deal last month and admitted to three counts each of second-degree criminal sexual conduct and possession of child pornography.
The charges led at least two dozen other men to say Jacobs molested them over as many as five decades while he taught at Blake and Breck schools and served as a counselor at Camp Warren. Although those cases were too old to prosecute, some of the men were slated to testify against Jacobs, who also is an attorney and ran the Park Police force from 1987 to 2001.
Rick Covin, 52, a retired retina surgeon from Rhinelander, Wis., said his blood ran cold when he saw Jacobs in court on Monday. His voice hasn't changed, Covin said. "It's the same voice that's been playing in my mind for years."
The sentencing hearing was the first time he'd seen or heard Jacobs since junior high at Breck, where Jacobs, his science teacher, took him under his wing and earned his trust just as his parents were divorcing, then sexually abused him from seventh through ninth grade. Covin contacted police after news broke of the 2010 charges against Jacobs. He said that opened the floodgates for the other adult accusers.
Victim's dad: My son's a hero
The boy whose case exposed Jacobs came forward in January 2010 and said Jacobs had molested him for three years beginning when he was 12 on camping trips and visits to the man's house and cabin.
Addressing the judge, the boy's father said the bravery his son demonstrated by coming forward was what finally ended the abuse, although through the decades, others knew of his inclinations, including two of the prestigious private schools where he taught. The father called Jacobs "in my measure, the worst child pedophile the state of Minnesota has ever had to deal with."
His son "was the only one with the guts to stick with it. For that we consider him a hero," the teenager's father said, choking back tears. "My son has made sure Jacobs will never sexually abuse boys again. We are proud of him and sorry for what he went through. He should not have been the one to carry the load of putting Jacobs away."
The teenager, now 17, comforted his mother with his arm around her shoulders and shook his head in disgust when Jacobs apologized. He called Jacobs "an incarnation of every breach of trust given to people in authority." He maintained his composure when he addressed the judge and glared at Jacobs as he strode back to his seat. Jacobs only looked down.
Addressing Moreno before sentencing, Jacobs read letters he had written to the boy and his parents from jail. In them, he apologized and in one case called the boy "a good young man."
"I don't expect you to reply to this letter, but I certainly would love it if you did," he wrote.
The family declined to accept the letters afterward.
The teen waited two years to testify before Jacobs pleaded guilty on the day opening statements were to begin in his trial last month. Jacobs' attorney, Joe Friedberg, maintained on Monday that Jacobs was remorseful and ready to plea from day one, while Assistant Hennepin County Attorneys Judy Johnston and Krista White claimed his attorneys stretched out the case for more than two years, prolonging the family's suffering.
With good behavior, Jacobs could be released in 12 years, at age 80, but he would remain on probation for the rest of his life.
Choice, not a curse
Jacobs, flanked by Friedberg and attorney Paul Engh, told Moreno the descriptions of him by the teenager and his father were painful but accurate. "The Bill Jacobs you heard about is not all of Bill Jacobs, not by a long shot, but it is today what is defining me in the eyes of others," he said. "Through the strength of others and my God, before I complete my sentence that you impose, the Bill Jacobs you've heard about will never exist again."
Johnston and White compared Jacobs' case to that of Aaron Biber, the disgraced former attorney who pled guilty to first-degree criminal sexual conduct for raping his son's 15-year-old friend after grooming him over a four-year period. Friedberg said the cases were markedly different. There was no attempt to blame the victim, unlike in the Biber case, Friedberg said.
When he handed down the sentence, Moreno said it was not a reflection of accusations by the other 25 alleged victims or to the damage done to the teenager. A comparison to the Biber case also bore no impact upon it, Moreno said.
"We are here simply to account for your behavior in this case," he said. "I can't ignore the fact that all you were given in life placed you in a position that you could have done more, instead of what you did."
Just before the hearing, a courier presented a civil lawsuit on behalf of Covin against Jacobs. As for remorse, Covin scoffed.
"It's not a curse, it's a choice," Covin said. "And he's made that choice so many times. It's who he is."
Abby Simons • 612-673-4921