A former Mandan police officer who pleaded guilty to shooting video of a person under age 18 with a hidden cellphone has been sentenced to five years in prison.
South Central District Judge Cynthia Feland on Monday also ordered Scott Warzecha, 45, to spend five years on probation after his release, two years more than recommended by attorneys in the case. He must also complete sex offender treatment while incarcerated and register as a sex offender.
The child victim when asked by Feland what a fair sentence would be replied, “as long as possible.”
“I don’t think I’ll ever forgive him for what he did,” the child said.
The Tribune does not identify victims of sex crimes.
Warzecha was charged in November with felony use of a minor in a sexual performance, which carries a potential sentence of 20 years in prison. He also was charged with two counts of felony surreptitious intrusion, which were amended into one count under the terms of a plea agreement. He pleaded guilty in April.
The Morton County Sheriff’s Office in mid-November responded to a call that Warzecha was threatening to harm himself. His actions followed the discovery of his alleged use of a cellphone to record a minor, authorities said. The incident was not work-related. A second video recording incident was reported to officers during the investigation, police said.
The case wasn’t one in which numerous images were captured and disseminated, and the presentence investigation didn’t show Warzecha had “any serious mental abnormality,” prosecutor Ladd Erickson said. But he added, “it created a huge problem for some victims. A real trust issue, victimization. They feel very violated by what he did.”
Erickson recommended an eight-year prison sentence with three years suspended.
Defense attorney Justin Vinje asked for a sentence of eight years with all but two years suspended. He said Warzecha has taken responsibility for his actions and waived any court proceedings in which those affected would have had to testify.
Warzecha called his actions “not only wrong, it was reprehensible.”
“You’re all good people and don’t deserve to suffer because of my actions,” he said.
Vinje after the hearing said he could attest from past experience to Warzecha’s work ethic and honesty.
“But he did a terrible thing and he accepts responsibility for it,” Vinje said. “I hope that with the end of these legal proceedings, everyone involved can find closure and eventually peace.”
Feland said she felt the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation likely won't keep Warzecha incarcerated for the full sentence because his risks and needs were deemed low in the presentence investigation.
"I would feel more comfortable with a five-year probationary period than three," the judge said.
The 13-year police veteran was placed on administrative leave at the onset of the investigation and fired a few days later. He was the handler of the Mandan department’s first K-9, Kupper. The dog joined the department in August 2019.
Reach Travis Svihovec at 701-250-8260 or Travis.Svihovec@bismarcktribune.com