ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty urged prosecutors Wednesday to open a perjury investigation against a pardoned sex offender now facing new molestation charges in a case that could pose problems for the Republican's presidential ambitions.
Pawlenty asked two county attorneys to investigate whether Jeremy Giefer, 36, of Vernon Center, lied on his application for a pardon, which requires the petitioner to swear he's been law-abiding. Pawlenty's administration also suspended the day care license of Giefer's wife, effective Wednesday, saying, "the health, safety, and rights of children in your care are in imminent risk of harm."
Pawlenty chaired the three-person board that issued the pardon in 2008, more than a decade after Giefer pleaded guilty to having sex with his 14-year-old girlfriend and getting her pregnant when he was 19. He served a short jail sentence with work release privileges. They later got married and remain together, and he said on his pardon application that he sought clemency partly so she could open a home day care.
Giefer was charged last month in Blue Earth County with sexually abusing a girl more than 250 times, before and after he was pardoned, starting when she was 9 and continuing until she was 16.
"The alleged behavior of this individual is sickening, and it makes me heartsick," Pawlenty told reporters at the Capitol.
Giefer's attorney, Robert Docherty, said Tuesday that his client says he did nothing wrong and will be found innocent. Giefer is free on $250,000 bail.
The Associated Press obtained a letter sent Tuesday by the state Human Services Department to Giefer's wife Susan suspending her day care license, prohibiting her from operating as an unlicensed day care and requiring her to post notice of the suspension. The letter said Blue Earth County Human Services received a report Nov. 17 that is now being investigated by county law enforcement and child protection. Giefer was charged with 12 felony counts on Nov. 18.
The Board of Pardons, which included Pawlenty, Attorney General Lori Swanson, a Democrat, and Eric Magnuson, who was then chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court, voted unanimously to pardon Giefer.
"It appears to me that he may have committed perjury or fraud on the application for a pardon," Pawlenty said. "One of the questions - and it is a sworn statement under oath - is. 'Have you remained law-abiding since your last conviction?' And he indicated under oath that he had remained law-abiding. If these allegations are true, that was obviously a lie."
On his pardon application, obtained by the AP through an open records request, Giefer attested that he had been discharged from his probation in 1997 and had been law-abiding since then. He signed a notarized declaration under oath saying all of the information he had provided was "true and correct."
But if the new abuse allegations prove to be true, the governor said, the pardons board based its decision on perjured statements.
Blue Earth County Attorney Ross Arneson said Wednesday evening that he had just received Pawlenty's letter and would look into it. While both criminal cases against Giefer were prosecuted in Blue Earth County, the Board of Pardons is based at the Corrections Department, which is in Ramsey County. The county attorney there is Susan Gaertner.
Some political scientists have said other potential GOP presidential candidates could use the pardon against Pawlenty but aren't likely to bother unless he becomes one of the front-runners in the race. Presidential candidates who've been subjected to attack ads over their clemency decisions include Michael Dukakis, a former Massachusetts governor who was the Democratic presidential nominee in 1988, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Republican presidential candidate in 2008 who could run again.
Pawlenty deflected a question about whether Giefer's pardon could hurt his chances.
"I don't think about it those terms. My thoughts are first just to the family and to the victim involved," Pawlenty said.
In his 2008 pardon application, Giefer noted that he and his wife had been married for 12 years and had stayed together through all his legal difficulties. They both wrote that they were seeking the pardon partly for business reasons. It said she wanted to run a day care center at their home but couldn't because of the sex offense on his record, and that they owned a towing company but he needed a clean record to get towing jobs from the State Patrol.
He said he was also told he had to stop coaching a youth baseball team because he was considered a sex offender.
The Board of Pardons file included statements from the Blue Earth county attorney's office and a judge who reviewed the case files. Both said they did not object to his pardon request.
Karnowski reported from Minneapolis.