LOS ANGELES – A once-respected former teacher accused of committing lewd acts on children in what he called “tasting games” is expected to plead no contest Friday to all the charges against him.
Mark Berndt, 62, plans to enter the legal equivalent of guilty pleas to 23 charges and receive 25 years in prison, according to John Manly, an attorney who represents 30 of his Miramonte Elementary School students and their parents.
Manly said Thursday that he was notified of the plea by prosecutors, who urged a plea deal because “they were concerned about re-traumatizing the children at trial.”
He called the agreement, first reported by the Daily News of Los Angeles, a victory for his clients.
“He’s going to jail essentially for the rest of his life,” Manly said. “You can’t ask for more than that.”
The district attorney’s office and Berndt’s lawyer declined to comment in advance of the court hearing.
Berndt is expected to admit that he blindfolded students while spoon-feeding them semen-laced cookies and sometimes putting huge cockroaches on them.
Sean Rossall, a district spokesman, said 63 lawsuits filed on behalf of victims have been settled for a total of $29.5 million, and 71 more are pending.
He said the district had not seen the plea agreement and wouldn’t comment until it’s entered in court.
Berndt, who taught for 32 years at the South Los Angeles school, was removed in 2011.
The allegations against him came to light when a drugstore photo technician noticed dozens of odd photos of blindfolded third-graders and reported them to authorities. Investigators said they discovered a plastic spoon in Berndt’s classroom trash bin. Tests found traces of semen on it.
The Miramonte case led to a wide-ranging overhaul of how the nation’s second-largest school district handles allegations of sexual abuse after it was revealed that previous complaints about Berndt’s behavior were ignored. It also showed how quickly state officials act to censure teachers and led to a flurry of allegations of teacher-student sex abuse in the district and in other school systems.
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