A former Sawyer County priest accused of sexually assaulting young boys years ago received the maximum prison sentence Thursday.

Thomas Ericksen, 72, was sentenced in Sawyer County Circuit Court to an indeterminate sentence of 20 years for a conviction of 1st Degree Sexual Assault-Against Child and another indeterminate sentence of 10 years on a conviction for 2nd Degree Sexual Assault-Against Child. The sentences will run consecutively.

Ericksen must register as a sex offender for the remainder of his life. He must provide a DNA sample, and pay DNA surcharge plus applicable 1982 court costs. He is prohibited from possessing firearms or body armor for the remainder of his life.

Two other Sawyer County charges of 2nd Degree Sexual Assault/Unconscious Victim were dismissed as part of a plea agreement, but read into the record.

Ericksen, had been living in Minneapolis, Minn., prior to being charged last November with 1st degree sexual assault of a child, 2nd degree sexual assault-against child and 2nd degree sexual assault of an unconscious victim. Warrants were issued for his arrest.

According to multiple criminal complaints, during an interview with investigators the former Wisconsin priest recalled fondling multiple boys while at St. Peter’s as well as at other parishes throughout Wisconsin, including Rice Lake and Rhinelander.

With coordinated efforts by the Sawyer County Sheriff’s Office and Minneapolis Police Department, Ericksen was located at his residence in Minneapolis, Minn. and taken into custody without further incident.

Ericksen was ordained in 1973 in the Diocese of Superior in Wisconsin and subsequently worked in parishes throughout Wisconsin before being permanently removed from ministry in 1988.

Ericksen was the subject of a 1989 lawsuit in which he was accused of sexually abusing four boys, according to the website, bishopaccountability.org He is said to have raped a 17 year-old boy and that boy’s 8 to 9 year old cousin. Further, he is said to have been caught assaulting two boys in the rectory, one of whom was the younger cousin of the 17 year-old. Ericksen said in 2010 that he “just fondled and stuff like that” in regard to the three boys, but he denied involvement with a fourth boy.

Ericksen’s name was released by the  Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis on Oct. 23, 2014 as having credible allegations of committing acts of sexual abuse to a minor because he once resided within the Archdiocese. Subsequently, Erickson’s priest file maintained by the Archdiocese was released to the public on Nov. 5, 2014 by the Minneapolis law firm, Jeff Anderson and Associates.

Documents released on Nov. 5, 2014 show Ericksen began a leave of absence from the Diocese of Superior in 1983 and resided with his sister and brother-in-law in the Twin Cities area during that timeframe without faculties. Faculties are a cleric’s authorization to celebrate the sacraments and act on behalf of the Church. A bishop can restrict or revoke a priest’s or deacon’s faculties to minister in the Church. A cleric who has no faculties cannot carry out any liturgical, sacramental or administrative action on behalf of the Church.

Erickson was permanently removed from ministry in 1988. A lawsuit was filed against Ericksen and the Diocese of Superior in 1989 and subsequently settled by the Diocese with the accusers for nearly $3 million.

In July 2010 the Sawyer County, Sheriff’s Department agreed to criminally investigate claims Ericksen sexually abused minors in the 1980s.  While the statute of limitations has expired for sexual assault, there is an exception if the alleged perpetrator moved out of the state.

Ericksen moved from Wisconsin to Minnesota in 1983, according to his MySpace page.

Ericksen’s social and professional networking sites list that he worked at AT&T as a customer service specialist for 20 years before moving to Kansas City, Mo. in 2005. In July 2010, the Sawyer County Sheriff’s Department began a criminal investigation into the 1980s allegations. Ericksen was subsequently fired from a volunteer job at the Special Olympics in Missouri when the nonprofit learned of the allegations against him. He abruptly moved to Indonesia at that time. Before he left, however, he admitted to a reporter that he had “just fondled and stuff like that.”

The Duluth News Tribune reported a 2010 interview with Ericksen, who at the time allegedly said it happened 30 years ago and he thought it was all settled. He also denied the allegations.

Ericksen returned to the U.S. in July 2013. The criminal investigation in Wisconsin was still pending at that time. He had been volunteering at a food shelf in Brooklyn Center, Minn. until his arrest last fall.

Despite an alleged confession by Ericksen to investigators in 2016, the case languished in the office of Sawyer County District Attorney Bruce Poquette for two more years before an arrest was made.

Charges were finally filed last fall, 14 days after USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin tried forcing Poquette to release records about the case. Court records now show detectives obtained a partial confession from Ericksen in 2016.

Victims spoke in court prior to sentencing.

“I refuse to spend another second of my life being referred to as a victim,” Steve Weix said. “Thomas Eriksen, you are a certified pedophile who should not be allowed to walk one more day of your natural life among society.”

Paul Eck said Ericksen deserves a life sentence. Eck said he continues to live with guilt about not reporting Ericksen when he was attacked, the former priest victimized at least two other boys in Winter “and perhaps many more since that time.”

“The damage he did lasts forever. It is not something I can just get over,” Eck said.

Ericksen told the court he has come to realize the damage he has done, especially to those who spoke in the courtroom.

“I  regretted every day, and I have prayed for my victims throughout this time. Today, I want to apologize to each one of them,” Ericksen said.

Probation for Ericksen would unduly depreciate the seriousness of the offenses, according to Ashland County Circuit Court Judge Kelly McKnight, who was presiding over the case.

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