Former Niles marijuana partner sentenced to probation, jail for fourth-degree sexual misconduct

Published 12:18 pm Monday, November 15, 2021

NILES – A former partner in a Niles marijuana business was sentenced Monday in Berrien County Trial Court to probation and jail after pleading guilty in September to a reduced charge in connection with a 2019 incident involving drugs and child sexually abusive activity.

Michael Eugene Heskett, 51, of Niles, pleaded guilty to one count of fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct and was sentenced to five years’ probation, 120 days in jail and credit for two days served, registration as a sex offender for 25 years and $3,015 in fines, costs and restitution.

Three other charges were dismissed as part of the plea agreement. The charges dismissed were delivery of a controlled substance to a minor — a 40-year felony; aggravated child sexually abusive activity — a 25-year felony; and prostitution/engaging the services of a minor — a five-year felony.

The prostitution/engaging the services of a minor charge was reduced to fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct. The latter charge carried a maximum penalty of two years in prison and is considered a high court misdemeanor.

Heskett had been a partner in the HDS Investments marijuana grow facility at Lake and 13th streets on the city’s northeast side. He left the business in August 2020 after state Marijuana Regulatory Agency officials indicated that his involvement in the operation would be a hindrance to the company getting a state license.

The victim went to police in January 2020 and reported that Heskett had given her crack cocaine, powder cocaine and marijuana in November 2019. She said that he forced her to have sexual relations with him and take photographs and videos of herself. Police reported that a search of her cell phone found evidence of the photographs and videos.

The victim spoke Monday before sentencing. She said she had gone from being a happy, outgoing high school student to someone ashamed of herself and deeply sad because of Heskett’s actions.

“I lost an entire year of school and going to prom,” she said. “I was preparing for trial instead of preparing for my graduation.”

She said that she was hospitalized and diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder because of what had happened to her.

“I have been absolutely broken, I never in my life felt so low,” she said. “I felt my life was over, my self-confidence and my life were over. I felt like everyone was against me and like I was on trial instead of him.”

She told Heskett that she felt it only fitting that he suffered as much as she had.

“I spent the last two years of my life thinking about this crime, it’s only fitting that you have matching time,” she said.

Defense attorney Sean Drew said that Heskett had no prior criminal behavior for 30 years and had suffered total humiliation because of his actions. He said Heskett was on tether bond for over 570 days with no violations or issues and had paid over $8,000 in fees for that already.

Berrien County Trial Judge Sterling Schrock noted that Heskett has admitted under oath to sexual conduct with the victim who was 16 at the time of the incident, despite any denials made by him or others on social media.

“I do not think that a crime of this nature given the totality of the circumstances can go without some sort of other punishment,” the judge said. “I have to find a reasonable basis to impose incarceration and the totality of the circumstances lead the court to believe that there was at least some element of grooming and I don’t think the age difference between a 16-year-old and a 49- or 50-year-old were adequately addressed.”

“I also have to recognize and make a decision about the risk to the public and the need to get the attention of the defendant,” he added. “The defendant trying to minimize his behavior and its impact on the victim causes the court concern. At least at this point in time, the defendant’s approach is to minimize his behavior.”