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FIRST RUN - Zumbro Falls man fined in drug case

A version of this story appeared in some editions Tuesday.

From staff reports

WABASHA -- A rural Zumbro Falls man was fined and put on probation Monday in Wabasha District Court after pleading guilty to felony fifth-degree possession of a controlled substance.

Paul Nitschke, 40, a Rochester firefighter, pleaded guilty in January to one count of possessing a drug that contained codeine.

Under the sentence handed down by Wabasha District Court Judge Gerard Ring, Nitschke must pay a $2,000 fine and undergo chemical-abuse counseling if it is found that he needs it. He'll be on probation for up to five years.

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If he complies with all parts of the sentence, the conviction will be taken off his record, Nitschke's attorney, Gary Gittus said.

Nitschke was charged in May 2001 with three counts of felony level fifth-degree controlled substance crimes, but one count was dismissed last fall for lack of evidence and the other was dropped when he entered his guilty plea.

Authorities initially alleged that Nitschke was in possession of more than 100 tablets of the illegal drug Rohypnol, but later acknowledged that an analysis concluded the tablets did not contain Rohypnol.

In a brief remark at the sentencing, in an interview later and in a written statement, Nitschke was critical of the Wabasha County Attorney's office and the media for its coverage of the case. In court, he said "I can't escape" the stigma of being a firefighter who was accused of possessing the so-called "date-rape" drug.

"It is an embarrassment," he said. "It hurts."

Rochester Fire Chief Dave Kapler attended the sentencing and said he wanted to hear the judge's sentence as he considers a recommendation about Nitschke to the Civil Service Board. Contrary to news reports last year, Nitschke, who has been with the department since 1985, was never suspended while the case was pending, Kapler said.

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