The former executive director of the Eau Claire Regional Arts Center, who was accused of sexually assaulting a 33-year-old woman at his office at The State Theatre, has the opportunity to avoid a criminal conviction.
Benjamin M. Richgruber, 40, 1628 Fairway St., pleaded guilty Tuesday in Eau Claire County Court to an amended misdemeanor count of lewd and lascivious behavior.
Richgruber was originally charged with a felony count of third-degree sexual assault.
As part of a deferred agreement with prosecutors, the misdemeanor charge will be dismissed in one year if Richgruber pays a $250 fine, commits no new crimes, has no contact with the victim, and undergoes a sex offender assessment and complies with any recommended counseling or treatment.
Richgruber’s attorney, Michael Cohen of Eau Claire, wanted to make it clear in court that the criminal complaint can serve as the basis for just the misdemeanor charge.
“We agree there is a basis for lewd and lascivious,” Cohen said. “That’s all.”
According to the criminal complaint:
The woman told an Eau Claire police officer Jan. 7, 2018, that she was sexually assaulted June 11, 2016, by an acquaintance.
The woman said she had gone out with some friends to a downtown bar to celebrate one of her friends’ birthday.
Richgruber was with the group, and the woman said she met him only one time the week before.
The woman said she had parked her car in the Lismore Hotel parking lot and was planning to go to another downtown area bar, where the group was planning to go next.
As she was leaving to go to her car, Richgruber asked if she wanted to ride over with him in his car.
On the way, Richgruber said he wanted to stop at his office at 316 Eau Claire St. to pick up either cigarettes or a cigarette lighter.
Richgruber invited the woman into the office with him so he could show her around.
As she was looking at different items of memorabilia in the office, Richgruber came up and started kissing her. She said she was shocked by this because Richgruber had not given any signals that he was interested in her.
The woman pulled away and said they needed to go because her friends were waiting for them.
Richgruber then removed the woman’s shirt and fondled her breasts inside her bra.
Richgruber pulled his pants down and the woman’s pants and underwear down, and engaged in sexual contact with her.
The woman said she told Richgruber multiple times to stop.
The woman said she tried to leave but Richgruber stood in front of the door, preventing her from leaving.
Richgruber eventually moved so she was able to leave.
The woman said she was afraid to go to police at the time because of Richgruber’s status in the community.
The woman said she sent an email to Richgruber a few days later saying she was not all right with what happened.
The woman said a friend helped her write the email. She said they sent it to his work email hoping that someone would see it and report the matter to police.
Richgruber was placed on administrative leave by the center’s board of directors. He later resigned from his position.