Sparta massage therapist charged with sexually assaulting female clients

SPARTA, Wis. (WKBT) — A 30-year-old Sparta massage therapist is charged with sexually assaulting his female clients.

Ethan Karls made his first court appearance on Wednesday, when Karls appeared virtually and did not turn on his camera. The judge gave him until Thursday afternoon to have his mugshot taken.

Karls worked in Sparta at Peak Performance Chiropractic. According to the criminal complaint, Karls spent a lot of time massaging their chests, and then touched, groped or grabbed their breasts.

Jennifer Driebel was the first woman to report what happened to Sparta police in October of 2020. When District Attorney Kevin Croninger declined to prosecute, Driebel turned to a state investigator for help. Driebel says the state investigator found evidence to charge Karls, but Croninger declined to press charges again.

The three other women came forward in January and February of this year. Around the same time, two Peak Performance employees called Sparta police after finding a hidden camera in Karls’ massage room.

The state of Wisconsin suspended Karls’ license in March, but D.A. Croninger didn’t file criminal charges against Karls until June. Driebel says it’s taken way too long.

“I want to see justice happen,” said Driebel. “I want to see the justice system doing their job, taking action. If this is happening to me, how many other people does this happen to?”

News 8 Now asked Croninger to respond to Driebel’s complaints. Croninger says the evidence, in this case, came in over a long period of time.

His statement reads:

As to Ms. Driebel’s concerns. A person who is alleged to have committed a crime (in this case Mr. Karls) is entitled to a presumption of innocence. This means that the State, even before charging a crime, must have sufficient proof to support that charge. I understand this proof requirement can be, and often is, extremely frustrating to victims of crime. I believe the process and the proof required to file a criminal charge has been extremely frustrating for Ms. Driebel and I am very sympathetic to her frustration with the criminal justice system and the level of proof required. However, this frustration does not change the level of proof the law requires.  

In this specific case, evidence has come in over a lengthy period of time. For a significant period of time there was not sufficient evidence to go forward with a criminal prosecution. More evidence came forward and that decision was revisited. While Mr. Karls maintains a presumption of innocence, from the State’s perspective, there is now sufficient evidence to move forward with criminal charges. If Ms. Driebel’s concern is that my office will not prosecute a person when there is insufficient proof to do so, she is correct. We will not prosecute someone without the proof required under the law. My office takes seriously the rights of all individuals, from the most innocent of victims, all the way to those accused of the most heinous and serious crimes. Every person in the criminal justice system, no matter the reason that brings them to the system, deserves to have their rights respected. We work hard every day to accomplish that, even when doing so  means making difficult and frustrating decisions.

Karls is free on a $2,500 signature bond.