Each time a defendant in federal court pleads guilty, the judge asks if the person has a clear mind, is under the influence of drugs or alcohol and is truly admitting guilt.
Once you plead guilty, judges warn, you can't back out.
So it was for Barry Vincent Ardolf, the Blaine man accused of hacking into his neighbors' Wi-Fi to frame them with child porn sent to co-workers and threats sent to elected officials. Last December, he said he was guilty. He said he was pleased with his attorney. He said he had a clear mind.
On Thursday, he said he wanted to take it all back.
After a nearly two-hour hearing before U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank -- during which Ardolf claimed his attorney coerced him, that he was groggy, sleep-deprived and "not there" emotionally when he admitted guilt -- he couldn't escape the answers he'd given the judge five months ago.
"I think the record is very clear in this case," Frank said as he denied Ardolf's motion to withdraw his plea.
Frank told Ardolf that he would sentence him later for identity theft, threats and possession and transmission of child pornography. He faces up to 44 years in prison.
Thursday's hearing was another odd chapter in a strange story of anger, vengeance and the computer age.
It began in August 2008, when Ardolf's new neighbors called Blaine police to report that Ardolf had picked up their 4-year-old son and kissed him. After that, Matt and Bethany Kostolnik said, they intended to just keep their distance from him. Ardolf began exacting revenge.
He created e-mail accounts in Matt Kostolnik's name and used a password-cracking program to hack into the Kostolniks' wireless router. Posing as Kostolnik, he sent e-mails -- one containing sexually suggestive language, others containing images of child pornography -- to Matt Kostolnik's co-workers and boss.
After Ardolf sent threats to Vice President Joe Biden, Gov. Tim Pawlenty and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, claiming to be the Kostolniks, an investigator discovered Ardolf was hijacking the family's wireless service.
A search of Ardolf's home produced evidence taken from more than a dozen computers and dozens of computer storage devices, evidence that included detailed notes of e-mail addresses, passwords, photographs and text of e-mails that had been sent.
Investigators and Assistant U.S. Attorney Tim Rank confronted Ardolf with that evidence last summer and a plea deal was arranged. Then Ardolf backed out of the deal, fired his attorney and hired another attorney to go to trial.
But on Dec. 17, after two days of trial, Ardolf again decided to plead guilty. Frank, known as a meticulous judge who takes his time, questioned Ardolf again and again about his guilt. The judge kept the jury in another room during the plea, in case Ardolf had another change of heart. He didn't -- until two months ago.
In court papers, Ardolf said he had alibis. Perhaps, he hinted, he had been framed into appearing to frame the Kostolniks.
"I pleaded guilty because I was abandoned by my lawyer," Ardolf told the judge Thursday. "He no longer wanted to fight for me. I had no options."
Frank thought differently. "I believe the evidence is overwhelming that you committed the crime."
James Walsh • 612-673-7428