Aschinger charged with perjury
The former Carroll woman says she admitted extortion for fear of 'guilt by association'
February 7, 2014
Elizabeth Aschinger deleted an extortionist's text messages from her father-in-law's cellphone last year because she thought the messages were part of a bogus scheme the father-in-law concocted to harass her, according to Aschinger's interviews with law officers and lawyers.
But Aschinger, 24, later pleaded guilty to a felony for conspiring with the extortionist, even though she consistently claimed in the interviews she had no idea who was behind the blackmail plot, according to transcripts of the interviews.
Aschinger was expected to testify last week - but didn't - against Carroll County's former juvenile court officer, Andrew Menken, 37, who was accused of aiding his friend in extorting a Lake View farmer in April 2013.
Aschinger speculated in the interviews that Menken was involved but eventually decided he wasn't. Menken, who has vehemently maintained his innocence, was acquitted by a jury.
Aschinger's possible testimony against Menken was part of a deal her attorney struck with Sac County Attorney Ben Smith late last year for a deferred judgment, in which she would not be a felon nor go to prison.
But five days before last week's trial, Aschinger, when questioned by Menken's attorney, said she took the plea deal because she feared she was "guilty by association" but did not conspire with Menken or his friend, Jason Heffelmeier, 39, of Buckingham, who has admitted he planned the scheme.
"I didn't know who had anything to do with it," Aschinger said in the interview. "I was mad at (father-in-law) Randy. I thought he was making it all up."
HARASSED FOR SEX
The interview transcripts - which became part of the public court record last week - reveal further details of the unusual relationship of Elizabeth and Randy Aschinger, 59, who testified last week that the two had a sexual affair for about four years before Elizabeth Aschinger married his son.
Based on that timeline, Elizabeth Aschinger would have been a teenager when the affair began.
"Randy is in love with you, OK?" Sac County Sheriff Ken McClure said in one of the interviews. "There is no doubt about that. I can't figure it out."
Randy Aschinger testified during Menken's trial last week that the affair ended when Elizabeth Aschinger married his son. But Elizabeth Aschinger said in the interviews, which took place in the past year, that her father-in-law continued to harass her and coerce her into having sex with him.
She alleged that he stalked her, harassed her with text messages and telephone calls and arrived unannounced at the gym she managed and her house while her husband was away for work.
"He threatened to kill my dogs if I wouldn't sleep with him," she alleged, and said she was in the process of requesting a no-contact order against the man in the weeks the preceded the extortion.
On April 8, 2013, a man - later identified as Heffelmeier - called Randy Aschinger and threatened to reveal the affair to his wife if he didn't pay more than $50,000.
Randy Aschinger went later that day to the gym, Anytime Fitness in Carroll, and confronted his daughter-in-law about the extortion. He wore a covert voice-recording device that Sheriff McClure provided.
Elizabeth Aschinger said in the interviews that she initially thought her father-in-law would attempt to use the extortion to coerce her for more sex and deleted the extortionist's threatening text messages to the father-in-law's phone to protect herself - and to protect Menken, who Randy Aschinger had suspected was also having sex with Elizabeth Aschinger.
"He is jealous," McClure said of Randy Aschinger. "He is in love with you, head over heels, so now he is mad."
Both Menken and Elizabeth Aschinger have said they were close friends but denied they became intimate.
After the confrontation at the gym - which Menken witnessed - Randy Aschinger received another text-message threat that revealed Heffelmeier knew about the confrontation even though he didn't witness it.
Menken had told Heffelmeier by phone about the gym confrontation shortly after it happened, which is what led Elizabeth Aschinger to suspect Menken was involved.
"I know he is behind it," Elizabeth Aschinger said of Menken in her first interview with McClure. "He is the only one that was sitting there that would have known" about the confrontation.
Menken has said he merely talked to Heffelmeier about the situation to see if Heffelmeier was involved in the blackmail scheme. When Heffelmeier allegedly denied his part in the crime, Menken tried to convince Elizabeth Aschinger that her father-in-law had fabricated the scheme.
"I want Andy to get in trouble," Elizabeth Aschinger said in a subsequent interview. "I would do whatever at this point because I feel so betrayed that he did it."
But five days before Menken's trial she told Menken's defense attorney that she had little reason to believe Menken was involved.
"I completely believe now that Jason had everything to do with it," she said at the time.
The judge who granted Aschinger a deferred judgment in September gave her a stern warning to abide by the terms of her plea agreement.
"I'm gonna give you a break here, but your full and absolute cooperation is the ... bargain," District Judge Thomas Bice said of Aschinger's promise to testify against Menken.
Aschinger admitted to the judge to conspiring with Menken to extort her father-in-law.
"You lied to the court? Is that your testimony here today?" County Attorney Smith said in the interview five days before the trial.
"No, I didn't lie to the court," Aschinger responded. "I deleted the messages because I didn't want Randy to go after Andy because I didn't think Andy had anything to do with it."
Menken's attorney, Charles Schulte, interjected: "Are you trying to impeach your own witness?"
Smith responded: "Yeah, I am."
Smith moved last week to revoke Aschinger's deferred judgment, and he charged her on Wednesday with perjury, a felony, and obstruction of justice, a misdemeanor.
Those charges, together with the original felony conspiracy charge, are punishable by up to 12 years in prison.
An initial court hearing for the possible revocation of Aschinger's deferred judgment is set for Feb. 19, according to online court records.
Aschinger now lives in West Des Moines without her husband, court records show.
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