N.J. school hit by sex scandal

Prosecutor Warren W. Faulk said Triton teachers "thought they could get away with improper relationships."
Prosecutor Warren W. Faulk said Triton teachers "thought they could get away with improper relationships." (MEL EVANS/ AP)

3 Triton teachers were charged with encounters with students. 2 officials were accused of cover-up.

Posted: October 06, 2012

Three teachers at Triton Regional High School in Runnemede were arrested Thursday for engaging in sexual relationships with 12th-grade students that were covered up by the school's administration, according to the Camden County Prosecutor's Office.

Charges filed against the teachers, Triton's principal, and its former assistant principal followed a two-month investigation into how the male teachers, who range in age from 27 to 32, allegedly continued their sexual encounters during the girls' senior year even after another student informed administrators.

"It was obvious there was a culture at Triton High School where teachers thought they could get away with improper relationships with their students and administrators turned a blind eye to these relationships' existence," Prosecutor Warren Faulk said at a news conference Thursday.

Word of the arrests rocked the Black Horse Pike Regional School District, where the teachers and administrators have been suspended and investigators are looking into the possibility of other sexual relationships between Triton staff and students.

Outside the school, which has more than 1,500 students from Gloucester Township, Runnemede, and Bellmawr, teenagers said rumors had run rampant.

Senior Pete Kaelin, 17, said he first heard about one of the alleged relationships at the end of summer.

"It's really getting spread around," he said. "I was shocked."

Nick Martinelli, 28, of Cherry Hill, and Jeff Logandro, 32, and Dan Michielli, 27, both of Blackwood, began relationships with the girls as early as November, exchanging intimate texts with them during class time and meeting them for sexual encounters, authorities said. The teachers were friends, as were the students, Faulk said.

All five were charged with official misconduct and face at least five years in prison. Logandro and Michielli also were charged with criminal sexual contact and endangering the welfare of child. In addition, Michielli was accused of sexual assault.

Each man was involved with a separate victim, officials said. Martinelli and Michielli each had sexual intercourse with a girl, according to court documents. In Martinelli's case, the sex act allegedly occurred after the girl graduated.

Faulk told the Associated Press rape charges could not be filed because the girls were 17 or 18 and the acts were consensual. The age of consent in New Jersey is 16.

In April, one of the teachers drove one of the girls and another student to Ocean City, N.J., for the day, where they met other Triton pupils, according to officials.

Information about that incident and the ongoing relationships was brought to the attention of principal Catherine DePaul and assistant principal Jernee Kollock a short time later, after a male student told a substitute teacher he had seen explicit text messages between one of the teachers and students, according to authorities.

After she was told students and teachers were "hooking up," DePaul went into denial, she later explained to investigators, according to court filings.

None of the accused staff members could be reached for comment Thursday. Kollock was working at Timber Creek Regional High School at the time of her suspension.

State law requires school officials to contact police or child services when made aware of sexual indiscretions involving teachers and students. DePaul never informed authorities of the male student's allegations, and Kollock coached him during the writing of a "watered-down" statement, Faulk said.

When DePaul informed the district of the student's statement, she mentioned only the car ride, which violated school policy barring social contact between teachers and students but was considered a minor infraction.

"They conducted a halfhearted and inadequate inquiry aimed primarily at protecting the teachers," Faulk said.

The teachers remained employed and continued their relationships with the students through the school year, according to authorities.

Late in the summer, the Prosecutor's Office received a tip, the source of which it declined to identify.

As details of the alleged relationships and cover-up emerged, authorities informed district officials.

Logandro and Michielli, both of whom taught math, were suspended early last month. Martinelli, who faces lesser charges because the student he was allegedly involved with was 18, was suspended from his job as a physical education teacher shortly after the school year began.

Logandro had coached girls' track. Michielli served as senior class adviser and coached boys' soccer.

School officials did not respond to phone calls for comment, but the school district said in a statement that it was cooperating with authorities and reviewing district policies "to prevent this from happening again at this or any district school."

Students had been posting about the affairs on social media for some time. On Sept. 26, one Twitter user wrote: "what if I wrote about the triton sex scandal for my history current event homework?"

On Thursday morning, the accused teachers and administrators turned themselves in to authorities at the Gloucester Township Police Department, where they were charged and released without bail.

They are set to appear in Superior Court on Thursday.

After school, Triton senior Zachary Markley, 18, lamented the damage the incident had done to the school's reputation. He said he knew the girls allegedly involved with the teachers and described them as "honor students."

"It's not how I want to remember my senior year," Markley said. "I just want this to go away."

Contact James Osborne at 856-779-3876 or jaosborne@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @osborneja.

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