Wolfgang Ballinger '17, a former student and fraternity president at Cornell, was sentenced on Tuesday after pleading guilty to a sex offense.

April 11, 2017

Sex Offense in Cornell Fraternity Leads to Probation for Chapter’s Ex-president

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This post has been updated.

About 14 months after he was arrested and charged with first-degree attempted rape, Wolfgang Ballinger ’17, the former Cornell fraternity president whose arrest made international headlines, was sentenced Tuesday to six years of probation after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor sex offense.

After the victim read a scathing, graphic statement in court, Tompkins County Judge Joseph Cassidy imposed the maximum sentence possible under a plea deal reached between Ballinger and the prosecutor’s office.

The former School of Hotel Administration student and Psi Upsilon president pleaded guilty to forcible touching in February as part of a plea deal that prosecutors said was reached in consultation with the victim.

“This was a decision that our office took very seriously and with great care, and most importantly with many consultations with [the victim] and her family,” Assistant District Attorney Eliza Filipowski said.

“A victim does not always need to subject herself to that type of scrutiny,” Filipowski said of a trial in which the victim would have to testify, adding that, without the plea deal, the victim would have “nightmares of that scrutiny for years to come.”

The victim, a Cornell student whose name The Sun is withholding, said in court that Ballinger had continued to touch her as she repeatedly said “no.”

“I just wanted it to stop,” she said. “Even a president of a top fraternity is not allowed to violate whoever they please without permission.”

In addition to the six years of probation, Ballinger is also banned from coming in contact with the victim until 2020 and will have to pay $1,000 to the court in fines and $250 in surcharges. He will not have to register as a sex offender.

The sex offense occurred in the Psi Upsilon fraternity at 2 Forest Park Ln. on Jan. 31, 2016, when Ballinger was 21.

In February 2016, Ballinger was arrested and charged with first-degree attempted rape, first-degree criminal sex act and sexual misconduct, all felonies. He was indicted four months later on one felony charge, first-degree sexual abuse.

The reduction in charges “speaks volumes” about the case, Ballinger’s lawyer said in court on Tuesday as she requested a punishment of community service for the former Cornell student.

“My client would like to see good come out of this rather than just his name being forever associated with rape,” the attorney, Sarah Wesley, said, asking the judge to assign her client between 500 and 1,000 hours of community service.

Judge Cassidy rejected that argument and instead imposed the maximum sentence allowed by the plea deal.

“The victim here makes allegations of horrendous criminal conduct by the defendant,” Cassidy said. “The facts or the details … in this case are not going to be heard by a jury.

Cassidy said it is understandable that a victim or prosecutor would not want to take the case to trial, which would be open to the public.

“That’s the nature of our system,” he said.

The victim said Ballinger had introduced himself to her that night using a fake name and proceeded to sexually and psychologically abuse her.

“He would open the door and pretend to let me out and then shut it again,” she said.

The victim’s attorney, Cari Simon, told The Washington Post that the victim is a Cornell student.

“He did much more than hurt some stranger he met on the street,” the victim said in court. “What he did will forever stay with my mom, who could not get off of the couch when she learned what he did to me.”

“All I want is to feel like myself again.”

Asked by Cassidy if he wished to address the court, Ballinger said, “No thank you, sir.”

The former fraternity president was “kicked out of Cornell” after the offense, his attorney said in court, adding that he has been taking courses offered by Hunter College and New York University since the assault and receiving high marks.

While on probation, Ballinger must avoid coming into contact with children — an exception was made for relatives — and is prohibited from entering establishments where alcohol is sold “for on-premise consumption.”

Judge Cassidy granted an exemption to the latter requirement, allowing Ballinger to continue working as a bartender at Webster Hall, a famed nightclub and concert venue in New York City run by Ballinger’s father.

District Attorney Matthew Van Houten told reporters outside of the courtroom that “the victim and her family feel very good that probation was imposed.”

“I’m disappointed that Mr. Ballinger never expressed real remorse or made a statement of responsibility at any point, aside from his guilty plea,” he said.“That, to me, speaks to the fact that he needs some level of supervision, that someone needs to be looking over his shoulder and make sure he learned his lesson from this.”

Cornell declined to comment on the sentence, referring to a statement issued in March, when Ballinger pleaded guilty.

“We respect the decision of the Tompkins County District Attorney’s Office to resolve this case,” John Carberry, director of media relations, said in March.

Ballinger sued the University last May, alleging that Cornell’s process for investigating sexual assault claims violates state law.

Tompkins County Supreme Court Judge Eugene Faughnan denied Ballinger’s petition in September but said he could renew the complaint when Cornell completes its investigation into the assault.

Speaking in court, the victim said Ballinger “placed a target on me and my life would be changed forever.”

“He ignored my pleas begging him to stop, but none of it mattered,” she said. “I didn’t understand that he genuinely wanted to assault me.”