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'Moral, Ethical, Legal Failures' in Triton Sex Case

Three Triton teachers and two administrators face charges of official misconduct in a teacher-student sex scandal that broke this week.

Three Triton Regional High School teachers allegedly carried on sexual relationship with now-former students while two administrators covered up the reported sex crimes, the Camden County Prosecutor's Office announced Thursday.

The teachers—Jeffrey Logandro, Nicholas Martinelli and Daniel Michielli—were placed on administrative leave at separate times in the investigation late this summer and earlier in the school year.

Logandro, of Deptford, and Michielli, of Blackwood, are charged with a number of sex crimes for alleged contact with underaged victims. Martinelli, of Cherry Hill, has only been charged with official misconduct at this point, as his alleged victim was 18 at the time. 

Also charged in connection with the prosecutor's office probe are Triton principal Catherine DePaul and vice principal Jernee Kollock, who allegedly knew about the teachers' relationships with the students, but did not report them to authorities.

DePaul and Kollock, who has been vice-principal at Timber Creek Regional High School—like Triton, a Black Horse Pike Regional School District (BHPRSD) school—since the start of the 2012-13 school year, were taken off the job Wednesday and suspended.

All five educators were arrested Thursday. They were processed and released pending initial court appearances, scheduled for Oct. 11.

(Click on the PDF, right, to read the complaints against the five people charged.)

Prosecutor Warren W. Faulk noted during a press conference at his Camden office Thursday afternoon that the Triton investigation is ongoing. The two-month probe has thus far uncovered "individual and personal moral, ethical, and legal failures on the part of the charged teachers and administrators," he said.

"It's obvious there existed a culture at Triton High School whereby teachers thought they could get away with the relationships with their students, and administrators turned a blind eye to evidence of these relationships' existence," Faulk said.

Explicit text messages uncovered

While BHPRSD had policies in place to bar teacher-student contact outside of school-sanctioned instructional time and extracurricular activities, those rules were ignored by the three teachers and their alleged victims, according to Faulk.

"Our investigation revealed that despite rules and regulations prohibiting it, the improper relationships between the teachers and students were fostered through social media as well as socializing in person outside the school," the prosecutor said. "Indeed, we uncovered evidence of exchanges of sexually explicit text messages during instructional periods."

BHPRSD Superintendent John Golden indicated the district has already begun reviewing "existing policies, protocol and training and education materials to prevent this from happening again."

One of the teachers drove his alleged victim to Ocean City during spring break and fraternized with the girl and other students there, Faulk said.

Faulk declined to answer reporters' questions about whether the teachers or victims were aware of the others' relationships.

Principal tried to protect teachers

A female student told a substitute teacher at Triton that teachers and students were engaging in sexual activity in April. The substitute forwarded that information to DePaul, the school principal, according to documents.

Kollock, the former Triton vice principal, allegedly stayed in a room with the student, who is not one of the three victims, as she wrote a statement regarding the allegations. She advised the student what to write and corrected her English, Faulk said.

According to a probable cause statement, DePaul told investigators she had tried to protect the teachers from the consequences of their actions.

Golden issued a written statement through Philadelphia public relations firm Braithwaite Communications that read, in part:

Let me be clear, we have zero tolerance for sexual misconduct and inappropriate behavior of any kind. As educators and community members nothng is more important to us than the safety and well-being of our students.

Golden added the district is cooperating with the ongoing investigation and is offering counseling to any students who need it.

The three former students—all females—reportedly graduated from the Runnemede school in June 2012. They have not been identified.

The alleged sexual relationships took place between November 2011 and June 2012, according to the prosecutor's office.

Logandro and Michielli's alleged victims were 17. Both men are charged with second-degree endangering the welfare of a child and official misconduct and fourth-degree criminal sexual contact.

Michielli is additionally charged with second-degree sexual assault.

Faulk noted Martinelli's victim was an adult when the alleged teacher-student sexual activity occurred, resulting in just the second-degree official misconduct charge.

Martinelli "is charged only with official misconduct because his victim was 18 years of age when he engaged in the improper relations with her," the prosecutor said.

Both DePaul and Kollock are also charged with second-degree official misconduct, and a disorderly persons offense of failing to report the teachers' misconduct.

Each second-degree crime carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 years. The maximum sentence on the fourth-degree criminal sexual contact charge is 18 months.

Teachers well-regarded before arrests

The investigation reportedly has cast a pall over the school through the first few weeks of the 2012-13 year.

As school let out Thursday, Triton students found themselves surrounded by news vans and reporters. Some students happily gave interviews, while others hurried away from school grounds with their heads down.

The students Patch spoke with reported that the teachers charged are popular and well-regarded. That seemed to add to the dismay many vocalized.

“Martinelli was one of my favorite teachers. And Logandro, he was my math teacher and he helped me out a lot every day,” junior Jake Lawrenson said. “Whenever I needed help, he was always there for me. I'm not happy about it at all.”

Martinelli, 28, a physical education teacher at the school, was the school's boys' soccer coach through the 2011 season, but was pulled from the sidelines for the Mustangs earlier this season.

While attending Rowan University in Glassboro in 2005, Martinelli was a first-team selection to the New Jersey Athletic Conference's Men's Soccer All-Conference Team. 

In August of this year, he was on the staff of a soccer academy at Williamstown High School for girls ages 13 to 18. 

Logandro, 32, was the school's girls' track coach as of the end of the spring 2012 season. Before coming to Triton, Logandro was a math teacher at Cherry Hill High School East. 

Michielli, 27, a math teacher, was Triton's Class of 2012 adviser.

Faulk refused to identify the source of information that sparked the prosecutor's office investigation.

Gloucester Township Police Department was not involved in the investigation.

Authorities urge anyone with any information regarding inappropriate actions involving Logandro, Martinelli or Michielli and students to contact Camden County Prosecutor's Office Inv. Robin Morante at 856-225-8480.

Triton is one of three schools in the Black Horse Pike district—the others are Highland and Timber Creek. The school draws students from three Camden County towns: Bellmawr, Gloucester Township and Runnemede, where the school is located. About 1,600 students attend Triton.

The BHPRSD board next meets on Oct. 11, at Timber Creek.

For more on the Triton teacher-student sex charges, visit:

 

 

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