Guilty plea: Sawaski sentenced to year in jail

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Don Sawaski is seen during his sentencing in 97th District Court Friday. Sawaski, 72, was sentenced to a year in jail for allowing a minor to access pornographic materials.

HOUGHTON — A former Houghton coach and athletic director called “one of the biggest sexual predators this county has ever seen” by a judge was sentenced to a year in jail for allowing a minor to access pornographic materials on his computer in 97th District Court in Houghton Friday.

“If I could give you longer, Mr. Sawaski, I would not hesitate to do it,” Judge Mark Wisti told Don Sawaski as Sawaski was led out of the courtroom.

Sawaski, 72, had been charged with two counts of possession of child sexual abuse material, a four-year felony, and one count of using a computer to commit a crime, a seven-year felony. He pleaded not guilty to the charges in May 2016.

He was arrested in Longmont, Colorado in January 2016 as a fugitive from justice. That month, local law enforcement officials said Sawaski was being investigated on charges of sexually assaulting local high school athletes in the 1970s and early 1980s.

Sawaski had been scheduled for a five-day trial in Houghton County Circuit Court starting Monday before his case was remanded to 97th District Court. He pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge Friday. The one-year sentence was the maximum available.

“You sir, are one of the biggest sexual predators this county has ever seen,” Wisti told Sawaski. “I wish I could sentence you to life in prison. You disgust me. You are a pervert.”

Sawaski’s attorney, Karl Numinen, asked Wisti for the basis of his opinion. Wisti said his probation agent had reviewed the police report prior to sentencing.

As a basis for his guilty plea, Sawaski first admitted to the basics of allowing a minor to use a computer with obscene material. Wisti pressed Sawaski for additional details regarding his culpability.

“And how did the obscene material get there, Mr. Sawaski?” Wisti said.

“It was mine,” Sawaski replied.

“And what was the obscene material, sir?” Wisti said.

“Pornography,” Sawaski said.

Asked what type, Sawaski described the sites as “general.” his attorney, Karl Numinen, said the sites visited had notices that people in the videos were 18 or older.

Numinen said had the case gone to trial, defense experts who did forensic examinations on Sawaski’s computer had not found any searches for underage pornography.

“The report of our expert … was that anything that was found in his computer were in temporary Internet files or unallocated space,” he said. “… Of the material that was on his computer, they all could have come from a perfectly legal viewing on perfectly legal commercial websites.”

However, he said, the defense had been concerned the jury would convict him of the lesser included offense of allowing minors have access to obscene materials.

In delivering the sentence, Wisti said he “did not believe a word” of Numinen’s explanation.

Sawaski was also fined $5,000 and will have to register as a sex offender.