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Former MeritCare employee pleads guilty in Duluth for window peeking

Richard Allen Paul

DULUTH, Minn. - A former Fargo MeritCare employee pleaded guilty Wednesday in Duluth to interference with privacy for peeking into the bedroom of a Cloquet girl near his home last summer.

Richard Allen Paul, 57, also the former director of Behavior Services for Essentia Health in Duluth, was accused of wearing a black ski mask and a gun on his hip during the incident about 11:30 p.m. on June 14. Paul initially told Cloquet police officers he had been looking for his dogs. He denied wearing a ski mask but admitted he had a firearm on his hip, according to the criminal complaint.

The night of the incident, Cloquet detectives found a loaded handgun under Paul's bed and the ski mask he was described to have been wearing. They also found night vision goggles.

Paul, who went by the name Rick Paul while in Fargo, was director of behavioral health at MeritCare from May 1999 to July 2002, when he joined Essentia in Duluth, according to his profile on LinkedIn. MeritCare is now part of Sanford Health.

B.J. Berg, an elementary school principal, is the owner of the home where Paul admitted peeking. Berg said Paul had been a neighbor for about 12 years and he had viewed him as a model neighbor and friend before the incident.

"I guess basically it's nice to finally hear him admit and take responsibility for his actions," Berg said after the plea hearing in Carlton County District Court.

Berg said his family will present a victim's impact statement at sentencing scheduled for Feb. 1. Judge Robert Macaulay ordered an Arrowhead Regional Corrections probation officer to investigate Paul's background before sentencing. Paul has no prior criminal history. The court also ordered that Paul undergo a psychosexual evaluation.

Carlton County Attorney Thom Pertler said there wasn't a plea agreement on what Paul's sentence will be. He said the attorneys will make their arguments to the court at sentencing. Both attorneys have agreed to recommend a stay of imposition of the sentence.

"It's good if they come in and step up to the plate and take responsibility for what they're doing," Pertler said. "I give him kudos for that. That doesn't help the family so much, but it certainly helps the (judicial) system."

Paul was on leave from Essentia Health at the time of the incident. In his position, which he had held since 2002, he oversaw all inpatient and outpatient behavior services. A spokeswoman with the health care provider said Wednesday that Paul is no longer employed there.

Before joining Essentia, Paul was managing partner in psychiatry for MeritCare Health System in Fargo and director of behavioral health services at Allina Health System United Hospital in St. Paul, according to the "Governing Council Biographies for Section for Psychiatric and Substance Abuse Services" posted on an American Hospital Association website.

Mark Stodghill writes for the Duluth News Tribune