A longtime western Wisconsin prosecutor secretly recorded sexual encounters with two women while leading them to believe he could help them with their pending criminal cases, according to charges.
Burnett County Assistant District Attorney Daniel P. Steffen, 50, of Osceola, Wis., was charged Friday with three felony counts of representations depicting nudity in connection with the sexual encounters in 2018.
Steffen is due to appear Feb. 15 in Circuit Court in Polk County, where he lives and served as district attorney for 10 years before losing a re-election bid in 2016. He has worked in the Burnett County office since February 2017.
In response to the allegations, Steffen on Monday told the Star Tribune: "I'm really anxious for the truth to come out."
Steffen has been put on administrative leave from his job in the wake of the charges, the Burnett County District Attorney's office said. His boss, District Attorney James Rennicke, was forced Monday to return early from a medical leave because Steffen is the county's only other prosecutor, officials said.
This is the second case in recent years involving a Burnett County prosecutor being formally accused of improper advances toward female defendants.
In February 2019, William Norine received a public reprimand from the state Office of Lawyer Regulation for using words such as "beautiful" and "lovely" while pursuing dates with multiple women who had pending criminal cases in Burnett County while he was district attorney there.
Norine resigned in August 2018. Court records show no criminal cases were filed against him, and he has retained his law license in Wisconsin.
According to the criminal complaint against Steffen:
Early in 2020, state investigators were alerted that a woman "openly talked" about having sex with Steffen "in exchange for leniency on criminal cases [she] had pending in Burnett County."
In February 2020, the woman first denied to a state investigator that she had sex with Steffen and said her cases ended with her paying a fine.
Three months later, the woman admitted to having sex with Steffen. She said they first met at a pretrial conference in his office while he was prosecuting her for violating a restraining order. She said he gave her his cellphone number, and they began texting each other.
Steffen eventually invited her to his home, where they had sex. They continued having sex there and at his office during work hours.
The investigator searched Steffen's home and seized an iPad from his bedroom dresser. On the device was a video showing Steffen and the woman having sex on Aug. 8, 2018. A similar video was shot on Sept. 11, 2018. In both cases the woman said she didn't know she was being recorded.
A third video was found on the iPad, from Feb. 11, 2018, showing Steffen and a different woman having sex. At one point, the two can be heard talking "about how she could avoid criminal charges for hitting a mailbox," the charges read.
The woman told the investigator that she and Steffen had multiple "hookups" in 2018 and didn't know she was being recorded during one encounter.
Steffen, who received his undergraduate degree from St. Cloud State University and his law degree in 1998 from William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, has had other legal troubles in Wisconsin in recent years.
He paid a fine for a campaign finance violation during the 2016 election cycle. He pleaded guilty to drunken driving in Fond du Lac County in 2015, and to disorderly conduct in 2019 in Dane County.
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482