Former Harrison chamber chair, shop owner sentenced

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COEUR d’ALENE — A Harrison ice cream shop owner and former chairman of the lakeside town’s Chamber of Commerce was sentenced Monday to 10 years in prison for fondling children.

However, a Coeur d’Alene judge suspended the sentence and ordered probation.

John E. Thiele, 62, will spend six months in jail with the option of work release, followed by four years of supervised probation as part of a 10-year suspended prison sentence.

First District Judge Scott Wayman denied the recommendation from prosecutors who wanted to see Thiele behind bars. Calling Thiele’s acts reprehensible, prosecutor Laura McClinton asked the court for a 20-year prison term.

Thiele, a 21-year Army veteran, was convicted on two counts of lewd and lascivious conduct with small children. The incidents occurred in 2016 and 2017, according to county investigators who sought the help of an out-of-state children’s resource center to secure testimony from the victims.

At Thiele’s first appearance in February, his attorney, Sean Walsh, told the court that Thiele had admitted to the acts to police and family members. Walsh asked the court for a reduced bail amount.

Prosecutors wanted bail set at $100,000, but the magistrate judge set bail at $25,000 and Thiele bonded out the same day.

Prosecutors argued Thiele’s initial admissions were not to police, but in writing from his first attorney to prosecutors, with personal information, including his name, redacted.

“The strategy was to get the prosecutor to make a better offer,” deputy prosecutor Corey Skriletz said. “He was trying to get a better deal before all this came to light.”

Thiele, who purchased property in Harrison in 2004, owned the Harrison Creamery and Fudge Factory on Harrison’s main street beginning in 2014 until earlier this year, when his name was removed from the business and his wife Lorraine’s name was added, according to documents at the secretary of state’s office.

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