About two and a half weeks ago, Wallace Cudd of rural New Richmond, Wisconsin was awakened in the wee hours of the morning by his wife, who informed him his boathouse was on fire.
Cudd stumbled outside and confirmed the news. His little red boathouse, which had already been a bit on the shabby side, was going up in flames as it sat on the east side of Bass Lake. It took Cudd two and a half hours to put out the fire. Then it was time to call the sheriff.
When deputies arrived on the scene, they discovered a clear trail of footprints in the early February snow leading to and from the boathouse’s smoky remains. They followed them for a half-mile along the edge of the lake to Hidden Oak Trail, through a resident’s yard, and straight to the house of one John Michael Haag.
Haag, who lives near New Richmond, is the CEO of Creekview Dental in Woodbury. He’s also the treasurer of the Bass Lake Rehab District lake association. The Pioneer Press found some unapproved meeting minutes from June on the association’s website in which Haag allegedly talks directly about “the boathouse on the east side of the lake.”
“He said he could get a group of volunteers to help take it down if that will help. It was brought up that he will need to contact the owner and offer that help,” the minutes said.
According to Cudd, he’d never given anyone permission to “help” him, and the association and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources had granted him the winter to do something about the old boathouse. But the footprints suggested to deputies that Haag had gone and done something for him.
Later that morning, authorities checked in with Haag to ask him a few questions about the fire. He quickly told them, according to a criminal complaint filed in St. Croix County District Court two days later, that he often walked his dog along Hidden Oak Trail, which would explain the tracks.
Except the deputies hadn’t yet mentioned where the fire took place. They also caught sight of a pair of portable gas tanks sitting near the garage, with their nozzles still open. (The sheriff’s department didn’t respond to interview requests.)
Still, Haag denied having done anything to Cudd’s boathouse. Until, that is, deputies returned again, this time to collect information for a warrant. According to the complaint, he “nervously” told him the following: “It was me, I did it, I started the fire.”
Then he handed over the jacket, balaclava, gloves, hat, neck warmer, snow pants, and boots he’d worn the night before for his tromp around the lake. Sure enough, the treads on the boots matched the footprints.
Haag is now facing a maximum of 40 years in prison and a $100,000 fine if he’s convicted. His attorney, Eric Nelson, says Haag won’t comment on the matter “personally.”
“This is an unfortunate situation for everyone involved,” he said in a statement sent to City Pages. “Dr. Haag is working toward resolving this issue in a manner that is demonstrative of his true character.”
The statement also said that this incident had nothing to do with Haag’s dental practice, “or the quality of service he provides.”
Haag is expected in court for a preliminary hearing on March 8.