Stuart Dunnings III, the former prosecutor for Ingham County who served for nearly 20 years and began his career as prosecutor in 1997, has pleaded guilty to two charges after 13 of the charges involving patronage of prostitutes over a five year period were dropped in a plea deal.
Initially, Dunnings faced 10 counts of engaging in prostitution, four counts of willful neglect of duty, and a single count of pandering prostitution. According to witness statements, Dunnings paid for YMCA memberships, rent, methadone treatments, and other things in exchange for sex.
While he was Ingham County prosecutor, Dunnings was allegedly soliciting sex with prostitutes while at the same time publicly attacking human trafficking. Now, according to Michigan AG Bill Schuette, Dunnings has pleaded guilty to a single felony misconduct in office charge, and one misdemeanor count of soliciting a prostitute.
Why were all but two charges dismissed in the plea agreement? According to Schuette, he amended the charges in an effort to avoid “re-victimizing women involved in a potential trial and . . . to protect them and their families from further publicity, while ensuring that justice is done in this case.” In 2015, the FBI was investigating a human trafficking ring in Michigan when the agency said it “could not ignore” information developed during the investigation involving a public official (Dunnings). At the time, authorities said Dunnings had paid for sex “hundreds of times” with women he encountered at escort services on the Internet.
Ingham County Sheriff Gene Wrigglesworth and Schuette said in a joint announcement last year that Dunnings was a regular customer of prostitutes between 2010 and 2015 across not only Ingham County, but Clinton and Ionia Counties as well. While the AG said Dunnings was a customer for the most part, he was also alleged at the time to have induced a woman to become a prostitute. This is known as pandering, and is a felony offense.
Pandering occurs when someone acts as a pimp, basically, and under Michigan Compiled Law 750.455 is described as an individual who encourages, entices, or forces a woman to engage in prostitution or reside in a house or other place that practices prostitution. Those found guilty of pandering are considered Tier 2 sex offenders, which means they are placed on the sex offender registry for 25 years.
Now that Dunnings has pleaded guilty to only two charges, the punishment he will likely face according to a statement made by Schuette include loss of his law license, fines of up to $5,000, and a “possible” five-year prison sentence. Is this punishment enough for what Dunnings has done, and his conduct while prosecutor for Ingham County? It’s doubtful the average person would get such leniency, although the Attorney General considers the punishment Dunnings may face as “serious consequences.”
Had Dunnings gone to trial and been found guilty on all of the 15 original charges, he would have faced more than 25 years in prison, which at age 63 would have likely been equivalent to a life sentence. Now, it seems, he is getting away with a slap on the wrist in comparison to the punishment he would have faced. Will he be required to register as a sex offender?
Should public officials be treated differently than the “average Joe” when it comes to sex crimes? While no doubt Dunnings is ashamed and disgraced, the punishment certainly doesn’t seem to fit the crime – or stack up the punishment someone else committing the same offenses would have faced.
What’s your opinion?