An Ellsworth area EMT is facing three felony child sex charges after a sting operation conducted in Barron County uncovered communications between the EMT and a police officer he thought was a 15-year-old boy.
Prosecutors charged Joseph R. Link, 33, New Richmond, with use of a computer to facilitate a child sex crime, child enticement and attempt sexual assault of a child under 16 in Barron County Circuit Court Aug. 14. He posted a $10,000 signature bond after his initial court appearance. Link faces up to 40 years in prison and a $100,000 fine on the first charge if convicted.
Link, an EMT with Ellsworth Area Ambulance Service, is on a leave of absence, confirmed EAAS director Jessi Willenbring Wednesday. A call to HealthPartners media relations confirmed Link is on leave and is employed by EAAS. The rep declined to comment further when asked how long Link has served on EAAS.
North American Central School Bus Company manager Cindy Scholz confirmed Wednesday that Link was employed by the bus company, which contracts with the New Richmond School District, from August to November 2011.
According to the criminal complaint:
A Rice Lake police officer created an account on Grindr, a homosexual dating application, after attending Wisconsin Department of Criminal Investigations training on child enticement investigations. The account the officer created said she was “a younger male looking for a ‘daddy.’”
At 6:09 p.m. May 7, the officer received a message on the app from a man later identified as Link, whose profile user name was “working rn.” His profile description stated “I am a full-time (ambulance emoji).”
The officer told Link she was a 15-year-old boy named Noah. Link and “Noah” began texting back-and-forth after first connecting on the app. Link’s texts told “Noah” that he was into younger males. The explicit texts talked of different sex positions and fetishes, underwear preferences and porn.
Link told the “Noah” persona that he is an EMT in Clear Lake. A call to the Clear Lake Area Ambulance was not immediately returned.
Link asked the boy how they could meet when he was “so young and live at home.” “Noah” told him his mother is gone to her boyfriend’s a lot and Link could come to his house.
One of Link’s responses was “I have to ask one thing how do I know you not the cops setting me up…” The boy told told him they could meet in public “so u could see im real first,” to which Link allegedly answered “I am ok with your age but I do want to meet in a public place see I can see you frist.”
Later in their communications, Link sent “Noah” nine explicit photographs, one of which he was in an EMT uniform. During the course of the Internet Crimes Against Children investigation, Link acknowledged several times that “Noah” was 15.
On Aug. 12, Link and “Noah” made plans to meet at 2:30 p.m. at Moon Lake Park in the city of Rice Lake to have sexual intercourse. Rice Lake police and Barron County sheriff’s deputies conducted surveillance at the park prior to the meeting time. Link had allegedly told “Noah” that he would be bringing him boy’s underwear or another gift. At 2:20 p.m., Link texted “Noah” to say he had arrived at the designated meeting place, the bathrooms at the far end of the park.
Officers converged on the location and Link, who was alone, was arrested. In an interview with police after his arrest, Link allegedly told officers he knew “Noah” was 15 and that his intention for meeting him was “maybe to have sex.”
A search of Link’s vehicle turned up two computers, a plastic dildo, rope, personal lubrication and condoms.
Link’s next court appearance is at 10 a.m. Aug. 22.