The delightful north woods town of Ely, known for its cute art galleries and calorie-loaded burgers at the gateway to the Boundary Waters, has a dark side. Its name is Barney Lakner.
The Lake County Sheriff's Office got a call early the morning of June 15 from a woman reporting her friend had been sexually assaulted at a remote cabin on Fall Lake, near the Boundary Waters, and police needed to come right away.
A deputy soon found the alleged victim, who said she'd been hanging out with a group of friends the day before when she left with one of the men, 47-year-old Barney Lakner, to drop off her dog at her house. Afterward, the two stopped by Lakner's cabin for a drink.
He mixed them, and hers tasted strange, the woman said. Afterward her vision blurred, and she felt like she could no longer hold herself up. It was an out-of-body experience totally unlike being drunk, she told police.
According to court documents, the woman recalled lying on a bed while Lakner struggled to pry her shorts off. She would have stopped him had she been able to move. She said she next woke hours later as Lakner molested her. Barely able to mumble noises, she said she lacked the strength to push him off.
At some point Lakner got up and left the room. The woman snuck into the bathroom and texted several friends for help before running out into the woods. There she hid, afraid for her life, as Lakner drove back and forth calling her phone, according to court documents.
Police searched the cabin, collecting bedding, beverage containers, and a Ruger P94, according to the criminal complaint. Lakner was charged with three felonies, including third degree sexual conduct -- penetrating a physically helpless person -- and being a felon in possession of firearms and ammo.
Lakner is due in Lake County Court on November 8, where he's as famous as it gets.
Ten years ago when he was 37, Lakner racked up 22 charges, including harassment, stalking, and reckless discharge for his role as the ringleader of a gang of five younger men, aged 16-20, who terrorized camping families on Basswood Lake.
The locals stormed the lake in two boats late at night, Lakner wearing a skull cap with fake dreadlocks. They shot off guns and fireworks, yelling at campers to get off their land, and threatening to rape and murder them as they hid in the woods with their children.
Lakner pleaded guilty to a few felonies and was sentenced to three years in prison. He was also banned from the Boundary Waters for five years.
In 2014, the then 45-year-old Lakner found himself in trouble with the law again when he and another much younger friend of 27 led a team of conservation officers on a dramatic snowmobile chase through the Boundary Waters over thin ice. After Lakner rammed an officer, another leapt off his moving snowmobile to tackle Lakner's friend. An officer grabbed on to Lakner's backpack to stop him.
Lakner was found guilty of fleeing a police officer -- a felony -- and five misdemeanors, including having a snowmobile at all in the Boundary Waters, taping over his registration stickers to avoid being identified, and littering beer cans.
Lake County Judge Michael Cuzzo decided not to send Lakner back to prison, opting instead for 180 days in jail and three years probation. If he violated probation, the court warned at the time, Lakner could be sent to prison for 13 months.
The threat turned out to be hollow. Court records show Lakner was caught violating probation in October 2016, but was given more probation.