Before Joel Hoffman entered a Deschutes County courtroom Wednesday to be sentenced for luring underage girls and exchanging explicit photos with them, nearly 30 of his loved ones had already packed the room.
The crowd fell silent as Hoffman, 44, of Bend, entered wearing navy blue jail garb. Over the next two hours, friends and family praised Hoffman for being a generous and loving friend, husband, brother and father. And while Deschutes County Circuit Judge Wells Ashby noted that Hoffman had taken full responsibility for his actions and will likely transition back to society smoothly, that didn’t stop him from sentencing Hoffman to seven and a half years in prison.
An investigation into Hoffman began about a year and a half ago when he called the landline for the home of a teenage Florida girl he had met on social media, and engaged in sexually explicit communication. The father of the victim answered the phone and told Hoffman to stop calling. Less than 24 hours later, Hoffman again tried to communicate with the victim, Deschutes County Deputy District Attorney Kandy Gies said in court Wednesday.
Law enforcement in Florida tracked Hoffman to Bend and learned he was also in contact with two local victims. Overall, Hoffman communicated with two 17-year-old girls and a 15-year-old girl. When arrested, he admitted to the conduct and expressed relief that he had been caught, according to court testimony.
In court Wednesday, Hoffman said the conduct stemmed from a longtime pornography addiction. As the years went on, he sought out more and more explicit material to achieve the same rush, he said. And while the courtroom was filled with support for Hoffman, the victims were absent. Gies said that is because they have moved on.
“I don’t want the court to think the impact on her has been minimal,” Gies told Ashby of the Florida victim. “It has not.”
Gies reported that the victim has since experienced nightmares, stress, depression and started cutting herself.
And while Hoffman apologized to the victims prior to sentencing, he also spent close to an hour discussing how he started actively reforming himself since his arrest on June 16, 2016. His lawyer, Mario Riquelme, and friends and family echoed that sentiment.
“This is a case of a man that had a very dark chapter in his life,” Riquelme said.
Hoffman’s brother and longtime best friend spoke about what a supportive and inspiring person Hoffman is. His wife read letters from his two daughters, asking Ashby to be lenient. Hoffman read from his psycho-sexual evaluation which noted he had expressed regret and empathy, and was a low risk to reoffend.
“I’m here to be accountable for my actions and ask for mercy,” Hoffman said.
Ashby said hearing letters from Hoffman’s friends and family helped him realize there was no simple solution to Hoffman’s crimes.
“It illuminates how inadequate the remedies for this court are,” he said.
Ashby went with the deal Gies and Riquelme proposed, which included a $10,000 fine to be divided among the victims, sex offender registration, two years of post-prison supervision, no contact with minor girls and no internet use unless authorized by a parole officer, in addition to the 90 months in prison. Hoffman will get credit for the 15 months he spent in jail, and will be eligible for early release for good behavior and participation in prison programs.
Before handing down the sentence, Gies asked Ashby to not let the testimony cloud his view of what Hoffman did, and the lingering trauma it still causes his victims.
“It didn’t end the day contact stopped,” she said.
— Reporter: 541-383-0376, firstname.lastname@example.org