INVESTIGATORS: Personal foul | Todd Hoffner - KMSP-TV

INVESTIGATORS: Personal foul

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MANKATO, Minn. (KMSP) -

It was a case that stunned the nation: A Minnesota college football coach accused of using his own children to make porn videos. It turned out to be false.

For the first time, the Fox 9 Investigators can explain how the fiasco unfolded after obtaining secret documents that reveal the tactics used by the prosecutors who went after Todd Hoffner.

"I believe that resuming my job as head football coach will heal my injury," Hoffner said at a press conference.

His long nightmare in the national spotlight is over, but there is still a huge nagging question: Why did it ever happen?

"Well, I guess first of all, we don't go looking for these cases," Blue Earth County Attorney Ross Arneson said. "They come to us."

Arneson is the one man who can answer that question.

"A lot of publicity has been devoted to this case," Arneson said. "None of it's come from me."

The Fox 9 Investigators asked Arneson for an interview. He declined. He hasn't spoken publicly about the case since he appeared on Mankato's KTOE radio in November of 2012.

"This is one of about 600 felony cases that we'll be handling this year," Arneson said.

That was the day a judge drop-kicked the matter of Minnesota vs. Todd Christian Hoffner out of court. She ruled there was no evidence to support criminal charges that the Minnesota State University-Mankato football coach had used his own children to make porn videos.

When asked if the decision surprised him, Arneson said, "Yes."

It should not have been a surprise. There were substantial clues early on that the case would collapse. We know this based on a review of court records and documents made available to the Fox 9 Investigators. We also discovered that this isn't the first time Arneson has been accused of being overzealous with a case. Two other people want apologies for how they were treated.

"I received a heck of an education in the justice system," Hoffner said at a press conference.

Arneson's office decided to move ahead with criminal charges against Hoffner even though police detectives were "uncertain" whether videos of the coach's children on his university-issued cell phone were pornographic.

"It seemed to be, with one elected official, a gross case of hubris," attorney Jim Flemming said.

The case appeared to be falling apart from the start. Court records show the county's Human Services Department launched a child protection investigation and cleared Hoffner of any wrongdoing. An expert on human sexuality viewed the videos and said they were nothing more than "children engaged in healthy play."

The judge who ultimately tossed the case said the only thing the videos contained were nude images of "minor children dancing and acting playful after a bath."

Now, compare that to the language the prosecutor used to argue against dismissal of the charges:

"In these videos, the defendant's children … expose their genitals in a lewd manner and, at one point, the son is seen masturbating."

"I don't think I will understand what certain individuals did, what they did or made the decisions that were made," Hoffner said. "That is for others to sort out and to deal with."

The Fox 9 Investigators spent 16 months sorting, and documents reveal some of the tactics used by prosecutors.

"I assure you that our children are not abused or exploited," Hoffner's wife, Melodee, said.

When Hoffner was arrested, police had a search warrant to take computer equipment from his home. A Mankato officer trained in computer forensics searched the hard drives and found no evidence of child pornography; however, he did recover deleted files of "adult" pornography on the coach's university-issued laptop.

Yet, in his report, the officer wrote, "The Dell laptop had accounts for previous users. I am not able to determine any information -- including which user account accessed them -- regarding the creation or deletion of these images."

"To me, at some point, somebody knew that going forward was not in the interest of justice, was not in the interest of the prosecutor's office," Flemming said.

But the county attorney's office didn't back down. Records reviewed by the Fox 9 Investigators show Michael Hansen, the prosecutor assigned the case, tried to use the police computer forensics report against Hoffner.

Hansen put together a motion to add the report as "new evidence," suggesting the images -- which included bestiality -- showed Hoffner had committed other "wrongs."

"In fact, sent us an e-mail suggesting we plead to a misdemeanor," Flemming said.

Hoffner said no to any plea bargain, and the Fox 9 Investigators learned that after the criminal charges were dismissed, an expert hired by Minnesota State University determined a high school student was responsible for accessing the images police recovered from the coach's laptop. That student had been assigned the computer before Hoffner.

"No charges should have ever been brought forward in the first place," attorney Chris Madel said.

The Fox 9 Investigation found that a former prosecutor and expert on child abuse said the same thing at Hoffner's arbitration hearing to get his job back because the university fired Hoffner even after he was exonerated in court. The expert who testified wasn't even a witness for the coach. He was hired by MSU to view the cell phone videos of the children. He said he would not have filed charges.

"It seems to me that there is no accountability," Jon Kietzer said.

This isn't the first time the Blue Earth County Attorney's Office has been accused of charging a criminal case before knowing the facts.

"I feel like that is what happened to me," Kietzer said. "Yeah, absolutely."

Kietzer is a Mankato banker who was charged with theft by swindle 6 years ago. At the time, banking fraud was a hot issue nationwide.

"Just came after me and didn't want to hear the facts and went full speed ahead," Kietzer said.

The case was covered by the Mankato media. Kietzer spent $50,000 on legal fees and says his reputation took a big hit.

"Even to this day, you still suspect that people remember it," Kietzer said.

The case never made it to trial. A judge threw out the charges saying the evidence showed Kietzer had done nothing wrong.

"It was extremely embarrassing," Raul Valdez said.

The Blue Earth County Attorney's Office went after Valdez in 2011, charging him with a felony for "illegally voting." The criminal complaint said Valdez was a convicted felon who was not eligible to vote, and it was all over the news in Mankato.

"All they had to do was just look at my file," Valdez said. "Alright, he's good. Clear. Done."

Valdez is right. The sheriff's department had already investigated and found his civil rights had been restored when he voted, but when prosecutor Michael Hanson filed charges, he referred to the sheriff's report as evidence Valdez had broken the law.

The case was withdrawn once Valdez's attorney alerted the prosecutor to the discrepancy.

"My name's out in the mud again, and you throw me out there and not even a, 'Hey, I missed up. I'm sorry' -- no nothing from him," Valdez said.

The Fox 9 Investigators asked Arneson to comment on the Valdez and Kietzer cases. He responded with an e-mail saying: "If somebody has a complaint, we expect it in writing from the person making the complaint."

"They have not apologized to me," Hoffner said.

The Hoffner case no longer dominates the afternoon talk on Jack Kolars' radio show like it once did, but one thing is clear.

"Those who support Hoffner largely want to see other heads roll," Kolars said.

This is an election year for the county attorney.

"I know how I'm going to vote, if that's what you're asking," Hoffner said. "That's all I can do."

A few days ago, Arneson announced he will be retiring and will not seek another term in office.

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