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7th L.A. school employee arrested on sex-related accusation

Corey HoganA seventh L.A. school employee has been arrested on sex-related accusations.

The latest case involves a teacher who has been arrested on suspicion of having sex with a 17-year-old female student, police said Tuesday.

There has been a flurry of arrests of Los Angeles-area schoolteachers and employees  in recent weeks. Officials said they believe the cases were a result of increased awareness following the high-profile arrest of teacher Mark Berndt atMiramonte Elementary School.

Berndt has been charged with photographing blindfolded and gagged students who were allegedly fed spoonfuls of his semen.

Last week, authorities announced the arrest of a Roosevelt High School Spanish teacher on suspicion of having sex with two teenage boys. Gabriela Cortez, 42, was arrested on suspicion of unlawful sexual intercourse.

Montebello police alleged that she had lengthy sexual relationships with the boys between 2008 and 2010. One of the teenagers, now 18, reported the teacher last week to police in Montebello, where she lives, said Chief Kevin McClure. After learning of the allegation, school officials immediately removed her from the classroom.

In the latest case, Corey Hogan, 32, the band director at George Washington Preparatory High School, was arrested after the student and her mother told police that the girl agreed to have sex with Hogan at his home, the Hawthorne Police Department said.

The sex allegedly took place during the football season after Hogan gave the girl and other students a ride home, police said in a statement.

FULL COVERAGE: Teacher sex-abuse investigations

After the other students were dropped off, the girl agreed to go to Hogan’s Hawthorne home, police said.

Hogan was arrested Monday at the high school.

Hogan was released Tuesday afternoon after posting $100,000 bail, according to Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department online booking records.

Law enforcement officials stressed that they don’t believe that more abuse is occurring. Rather, the Miramonte episode has sparked some people to come forward and others to be more watchful, they say.

“As a community, people are coming together and are hyper-vigilant about any other perpetrators. Everything is now being reported,” Pia Escudero, who directs L.A. Unified’s mental health and crisis counseling services, told The Times last week.

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Teacher had sexual relationship with boys for 2 years, police say

Teacher accused

Police allege that a Roosevelt High School teacher had a sexual relationship with two boys for two years.

Gabriela Cortez, a 42-year-old Spanish teacher at the Boyle Heights campus, was booked Thursday on suspicion of unlawful sexual intercourse.

Police in Montebello, where Cortez lives, allege that she had lengthy sexual relationships with the boys between 2008 and 2010. One of the youths, now 18, reported the teacher last week, said Police Chief Kevin McClure.

After learning of the allegation, school officials immediately removed her from the classroom.

Over the last three weeks, six employees of the Los Angeles Unified School District have been booked on suspicion of sex-related crimes, while several others have been pulled from the classroom amid investigations.

The media coverage after the arrest of Miramonte Elementary School teacher Mark Berndt, who is accused of spoon-feeding his semen to blindfolded children, has intensified discussion among school officials, parents and children about abuse.

“As a community, people are coming together and are hyper-vigilant about any other perpetrators. Everything is now being reported,” said Pia Escudero, who directs L.A. Unified’s mental health and crisis counseling services.

The district has seen an uptick in allegations of adult sexual misconduct in recent weeks. Counselors have been dispatched to several campuses — including 45 at Miramonte, one for every classroom.

— Richard Winton, Howard Blume and Sam Allen

 

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Ex-Miramonte teacher pleads not guilty to lewd acts with students

Former Miramonte Elementary School teacher Mark Berndt pleaded not guilty Tuesday to nearly two dozen counts of committing lewd acts with his students.

Berndt, 61, was charged last month with 23 counts of lewd acts. The investigation into Berndt began after a pharmacy photo lab technician discovered snapshots in which children were allegedly bound and gagged, and in some, being spoonfed a white liquid that is believed to be Berndt’s semen.

In court Tuesday, Berndt was dressed in an orange jumpsuit and appeared unshaven. His public defender, Victor Acevedo, said guards at the jail had been denying his client’s request for razors.

Berndt is being held in lieu of $23-million bail, although the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office said there would be a bail review.

Berndt is set to return to court March 28.

 

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Dr. Phil interviews Miramonte students about lewd conduct case

Two former students of accused Miramonte Elementary School teacher Mark Berndt will appear in a taped segment on the “Dr. Phil” television show Thursday afternoon, describing the suspect’s alleged efforts to feed them cookies believed to be covered with semen.

In an interview with the show’s host, psychologist Phil McGraw, one of the students said he told Berndt he did not want to eat the cookies. Another student said Berndt shook her shoulders, which scared her, according to a brief video promoting the show on the Dr. Phil website.

Berndt is charged with 23 counts of lewd acts on children.

FULL COVERAGE: Teacher sex-abuse investigation

The Miramonte community was rocked by the Jan. 30 arrest of Berndt, 61, who is accused of spoon-feeding his semen to blindfolded students in his classroom as part of what he allegedly called “tasting games.” Days later, second-grade teacher Martin Springer was pulled from his Miramonte classroom and then arrested the next day. He is charged with fondling a former student.

The Los Angeles Unified School District took extreme measures to bring order back to the Miramonte campus, replacing the school’s entire staff.

Following Berndt’s arrest and a two-day closure, attendance at Miramonte dipped to 68% on Feb. 9, when the school reopened with a new staff. Attendance has since improved.

 

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Miramonte School Scandal: Second Teacher Removed From The Classroom

LOS ANGELES — A second teacher pulled from a classroom at Miramonte Elementary School was arrested for investigation of lewd acts on two girls on Friday, just days after a third-grade teacher from the same campus was charged with lewd acts involving photographing nearly two dozen children for sexual thrills, authorities said.

Sheriff’s Capt. Mike Parker said 49-year-old Martin Springer of Alhambra was arrested based on information that came forward after the first arrest was announced, but there was no known connection between the two cases. Parker said the victims in the second case were about 7 years old and allegedly were fondled in a classroom.

In a related development, a lawyer on Friday filed a claim against the Los Angeles Unified School District stating that he intended to file a lawsuit on behalf of an unidentified girl who ate a sugar cookie laced with the semen of the first teacher arrested, Mark Berndt.

The second teacher was removed after accusations of inappropriate touching of students surfaced on Thursday, Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent John Deasy said.

“We are prepared to fire him next week and we’ll do that at the next board meeting for inappropriate conduct and inappropriately touching students,” the superintendent told KTTV.

Deasy said the district has seen an increase in the number of complaints of teacher molestation since news of Berndt’s arrest broke, but he provided no figures.

Child-abuse investigators were informed by the district late Thursday night, sheriff’s Lt. Carlos Marquez said, declining to provide details.

Earlier this week, third-grade teacher Mark Berndt, who worked at the school for 30 years, was charged with committing lewd acts on 23 children, ages 6 to 10, between 2005 and 2010. He remains jailed on $23 million bail and could face life in prison if convicted.

Deasy said the allegations had not been previously reported to the district.

Beverly Hills lawyer Raymond Boucher, whose Beverly Hills firm specializes in sexual abuse lawsuits against school districts, religious institutions and hospitals, said the legal claim of behalf of “Jane Doe 1” charges that the district did not take adequate steps to prevent Berndt from repeatedly abusing children after they received complaints about him.

School was in session Friday at Miramonte. After news broke about the second teacher, several parents took their children out of school.

Ida Santana said her sister called her and told her to pick up her nephew.

“It’s hard to leave our kids here,” Santana said. “We can’t trust the teachers no more. Now there’s another teacher.”

Several other parents could be seen walking youngsters away from the school.

Santana said the family is unsure where the boy will be going to school from now on.

The development involving the second teacher was made public a day after authorities acknowledged that 18 years ago a 10-year-old girl claimed Berndt tried to fondle her.

Prosecutors declined to file to charges against Berndt in the 1993 report, saying they didn’t have enough evidence.

The details of that case and other claims by two former students about strange behavior by Berndt surfaced just three days after his arrest.

The allegations also raised further questions about why he wasn’t disciplined by school officials, who have been lambasted by some parents for waiting a year to reveal Berndt was suspected of taking bondage-style photographs of children in his class.

Only parents of children identified as victims were told by authorities about the most recent investigation.

School officials and investigators said proper procedures were followed to investigate and build a case against the teacher.

The incident involving the 10-year-old girl occurred in September 1993 but wasn’t reported by her mother to officials at Miramonte until the following January, after her daughter had seen an “Oprah” show about inappropriate touching, sheriff’s Sgt. Dan Scott said Thursday.

The girl claimed Berndt reached toward her genitals during class and she pushed his hand away, Scott said.

School officials notified the Sheriff’s Department, which submitted evidence to prosecutors. They opted not to file a charge of committing a lewd act on a minor under the age of 14. Berndt was never arrested.

“Based on what I read, it was a thorough and complete investigation,” said Scott, who noted the investigator who handled the case has retired.

Sandi Gibbons, a district attorney spokeswoman, said in a statement the case was rejected because there was insufficient evidence to prove a crime had occurred.

Berndt denied the allegation at the time.

Earlier, two women who said they were former students of Berndt told the Los Angeles Times that complaints were made about his odd behavior as far back as 1990.

Using a cheap camera, Berndt is suspected of snapping nearly 400 photographs of Miramonte students, some with a giant Madagascar cockroach from a classroom terrarium on their faces.

Others were blindfolded or had clear tape over their mouths, and some were given sperm-laced cookies to eat as treats in the photo sessions that were treated like games, Scott said.

Some of Berndt’s students defended him, saying he was a kind and generous teacher.

Angelica Zuniga, a 16-year-old high school junior, was in third grade in 2003 when she had Berndt as a teacher. She said he never asked her or others to do anything strange or to play any inappropriate games.

“They’re calling him `monster.’ He’s just not that kind of person,” Angelica said. “He was one of the most amazing teachers out there. He’s dedicated his life to us, and I want to stick up for him.”

The latest investigation of Berndt began last fall when a film processor became suspicious about the photographs and turned them over to Redondo Beach police, who on Dec. 2 handed them over to the sheriff’s department, Scott said.

Berndt, who taught at Miramonte for more than 30 years ago, was removed from classwork in January and fired within the month.

The case also prompted Deasy to fire a high school teacher who is being sued over allegations he had sex with students. The Los Angeles Times () reported Friday that Vance Miller, 59, was pulled from his Hamilton High School classroom in 2010, before Deasy became superintendent.http://lat.ms/w40AxM

A police investigation didn’t result in criminal charges. But two former students, now adults, said the music teacher had sex with them while they were students at Hamilton. Deasy reviewed the case this week and decided there was enough information to fire Miller, who has been paid since his removal.

 

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Teacher bondage photos case: Students reportedly complained in ’90

LOS ANGELES – School officials questioned how an elementary school teacher suspected of taking bizarre bondage-style photographs of children in his class went undetected for years as new allegations of past and potentially inappropriate behavior by Mark Berndt surfaced.

Berndt, 61, remained jailed in lieu of $23 million bail after his first court appearance Wednesday on felony charges that he committed lewd acts on 23 boys and girls, ages 6 to 10, between 2005 and 2010. The acts were alleged to have occurred at Miramonte Elementary School, where he taught for more than 30 years. He could face multiple life sentences if convicted.

Article Tab: elementary-teacher-school
Students are escorted to a waiting bus as they leave Miramonte Elementary school after classes Tuesday in Los Angeles. School officials questioned how a teacher suspected of taking bizarre bondage-style photos of students there could have been undetected for years. Veteran Miramonte Elementary teacher Mark Berndt, 61, was arrested Monday, Jan. 30, on charges of lewd conduct with 23 children
DAMIAN DOVARGANES, AP

(Check out a scathing story about the incident on The Mom Blog.)

Angry parents confronted school officials Wednesday, demanding to know why they weren’t told for a year that Berndt was suspected of photographing children in class for sexual thrills.

Berndt was removed from class work in January 2011 and fired within the month, but only parents of children identified as victims were told by authorities at that time of the investigation.

School officials and investigators said proper procedures were followed to prevent anything that might harm efforts to investigate and build a case against the teacher.

“That’s cool and fine, but the detectives’ children don’t go here,” said Cheremoya Dupree, 38, whose two children attend the school and were not victims. “I want them to tell the truth … because I don’t think we got that.”

Miramonte Principal Martin Sandoval told reporters that he followed proper district procedure.

Meanwhile, two women who said they were former students of Berndt told the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday that complaints were made about Berndt’s odd behavior as far back as 1990.

Marlene Trujillo, 30, said she and two other fourth-grade classmates spoke with a school counselor about Berndt. They told the counselor he often moved his hands under his desk, near his lap, at the front of the classroom. She and other students also had seen a jar of Vaseline in one of his desk compartments.

Trujillo said the counselor “just told us it’s not very good to make stories up. She said it was our imagination. It was never talked about again.”

Trujillo’s classmate, Nadine Martinez Rodriguez, said she also noticed Berndt’s behavior. Martinez said she told her mother about it at the time but that her mother didn’t take it seriously enough to report to school officials, the Times reported.

School officials tried to determine how such behavior might have gone on unsuspected for so long.

“How do I make sense out of the fact that this took place over a number of years and no one seemed to know about that?” Los Angeles Unified School District Supt. John Deasy told the Times. “I’m definitely trying to understand how someone could not have known.”

Using a cheap camera, Berndt is suspected of snapping nearly 400 photographs of Miramonte students, some with a giant Madagascar cockroach from a classroom terrarium on their faces.

Others were blindfolded or had clear tape over their mouths, and some were shown with a spoonful of milky liquid placed near their lips, sheriff’s Sgt. Dan Scott said.

The photo sessions were treated as a game and some children were given sperm-laced cookies to eat as treats, Scott said. Berndt didn’t sell or share the photographs but did give copies to some children, Scott said.

“It was like a souvenir,” Scott said.

Some children were smiling, and there was one photograph of Berndt tied up but with a “nonchalant” expression, Scott said.

The investigation began in the fall of 2010 when a film processor became suspicious about the photographs and turned them over to Redondo Beach police, who on Dec. 2, 2010, handed them over to the Sheriff’s Department, Scott said.

Investigators began trying to track down the children, but learned the year-round school was on break until Jan. 3, 2011, Scott said.

On that day, investigators went to the class, where Berndt refused to be questioned without an attorney, Scott said.

An investigator then found a blue spoon apparently hidden in a trash can that appeared to be the one seen in the photographs, but it took months before analysis determined there was semen on the spoon and more time before DNA testing matched it to Berndt, authorities said.

Only then was there enough evidence of a crime to charge Berndt, Scott said.

Meanwhile, investigators kept trying to identify children in the photographs, some of which apparently dated back to 2005.

“Up until two weeks ago, we were still working to identify children,” Scott said.

 

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Bail in teacher bondage photo case raised to $23 million

LOS ANGELES – Bail for a former Los Angeles elementary school teacher has been raised to $23 million in a case where he’s accused of taking bizarre photos of children in his classroom for a sexual thrill.

Mark Berndt, 61, appeared in court Wednesday to face allegations of committing lewd acts involving 23 boys and girls, ages 6 to 10, between 2008 and 2010. He could face life in prison if convicted.

Article Tab: A reporter walks to Mark Berndt's apartment in Torrance on Tuesday. Berndt, a veteran elementary school teacher was arrested on child molestation charges after a film processor gave police photos showing blindfolded children with their mouths taped and cockroaches on their faces, authorities said Tuesday.
A reporter walks to Mark Berndt’s apartment in Torrance on Tuesday. Berndt, a veteran elementary school teacher was arrested on child molestation charges after a film processor gave police photos showing blindfolded children with their mouths taped and cockroaches on their faces, authorities said Tuesday.
JAE C. HONG, AP

 

 

 

His bail was raised from $2.3 million at the request of prosecutors and his arraignment was delayed to Feb. 21.

Berndt has hired a lawyer and has made no statements to authorities, said Los Angeles County sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore.

The investigation began when a film processor found Berndt’s photos more than a year ago. Since the discovery, the school district fired Berndt and police put him under surveillance.

“If it wasn’t for the film processor, this could still be continuing today,” said sheriff’s Lt. Carlos Marquez.

Berndt was arrested Monday at his home in Torrance and was being held in lieu of $2.3 million bail.

Some parents picking up their pre-kindergarteners at the school on Tuesday complained that officials at the school in South Los Angeles should have notified them when the photos were found.

“My concern is why, if the principal knew this in advance, why didn’t he inform us?” said Gloria Polanco, the mother of a second- and a third-grader. “How long has he been doing this?”

The probe began after the film processor, who is required by state law to report suspicions of child abuse and molestation, turned over some 40 photographs to authorities.

About 400 photos were found at Berndt’s home and at the photo lab during subsequent searches. It’s not clear how many different children were pictured. At least 10 youngsters in the photos have not yet been identified.

Some photos showed Berndt with his arm around children or his hand over their mouths. Some photos showed children with live bugs the size of hissing cockroaches on their mouths or faces.

Others depicted girls with what appears to be a spoon up to their mouths as if they were going to ingest a clear-white liquid. Children were fed Berndt’s semen from a spoon or on cookies, Marquez said.

Kids reported being fed something distasteful. A blue plastic spoon and container found in the trash in his classroom tested positive for his semen, authorities said.

Police recommended the children in the photos be tested for sexually transmitted diseases. There also may be more victims given the length of time that Berndt taught at the school, Marquez said.

Authorities could have arrested Berndt on misdemeanor charges when the investigation began but chose to build a stronger felony case, Marquez said. He could get a life sentence if he is convicted.

At first, neither the parents nor the children believed they had been molested, so there wasn’t much reaction, according to Whitmore. It was only after the matter of the semen was raised that they became alarmed.

Berndt, who has no previous arrest record, was placed under surveillance and is not believed to have had contact with children during the investigation. The childless bachelor lives a few blocks from two parks and an elementary school.

As for surveillance of Berndt, Whitmore said, “It was routine. It wasn’t 24-7. We knew his whereabouts.”

The incidents occurred during school hours but not all the children were his students, Marquez said.

“The reason some of the kids are not his students, per se, is that during the lunch breaks or recess, he’d go out to the playground and entice them back to the classroom,” Marquez said.

“They didn’t know they were being violated in that manner,” he said. “They just thought it was a game.”

Berndt was a teaching assistant in the Los Angeles Unified School District in 1976 and 1977 and he began teaching at Miramonte in 1979, according to a district work history obtained by the Los Angeles Times.

Berndt had no disciplinary actions on file and performed up to standards in his last five evaluations over the last decade, according to the document.

Miramonte Principal Martin Sandoval said he wanted to express his sympathy to the children’s families.

Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent John Deasy said in a statement that he was notified of the investigation last January and removed Berndt from the classroom the same day. The school board then fired him, he said.

While Berndt may be long gone from the school, the incident has left its mark.

“My children won’t be coming back here,” said Kimberly Kirklin, whose teenage daughter was in Berndt’s class three years ago. “He preyed on our innocents. He tainted a whole neighborhood.”

Berndt is scheduled for an arraignment Wednesday in Los Angeles Superior Court. He has hired a lawyer and has made no statements to authorities, Whitmore said.

 

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