Two former Covina-Valley Unified School District teachers who took students on a San Clemente camping trip, supplied them with alcohol and cocaine and had sex with two of them pleaded guilty Friday and were sentenced to probation.
Melody Suzanne Lippert, 38, of Covina, and Michelle Louise Ghirelli, 30, of West Covina, also permanently surrendered their teaching credentials as part of the plea deal with prosecutors, according to Deputy District Attorney Kristin Bracic.
Lippert pleaded guilty to felony statutory rape. Ghirelli pleaded guilty to the same charge as well as a felony count of furnishing a controlled substance.
Although Lippert slept with someone who was 18, she was still charged with statutory rape as an “aider and abettor” of Ghirelli’s underage sex crime, Bracic said.
Lippert was also ordered to do 15 days of work with Caltrans. If she fails to do so, she could face three months in jail, Bracic said. Ghirelli, meanwhile, must serve six months in a live-in, locked-down drug rehabilitation facility, or she could face the same amount of time in jail, the prosecutor said.
Lippert was the “matchmaker” for Ghirelli, who had sex with a 17-year- old boy. Lippert had sex with an 18-year-old former student along for the party at San Clemente State Beach, Bracic said.
“The number one thing here is the victims are 17- and 18-year-old boys who are graduating next week and they just wanted to close this chapter in their lives as quickly as possible,” Bracic said, explaining why the plea deal was struck with the defendants. “They were happy to get it done once and for all.”
The two women were also rewarded for taking responsibility for their crimes relatively early in the legal process, Bracic said. The “major punishment” is the loss of their teaching credentials, she said.
The two will avoid having to register as sex offenders.
“They acted foolish in this isolated incident,” Bracic said, adding that the sex-offender registration requirement should be reserved for “sexual predators.”
A protective order is in place barring the two women from South Hills High School in West Covina, where Lippert’s son is enrolled.
“So she can’t even go to that school and drop her son off in the morning,” Bracic said.
Before she was arrested, Ghirelli had been promoted to an administrative job and was working on her master’s degree, Bracic said.
The two defendants taught English together at the school and the victims were their former students, according to the prosecutor, who said the victims were embarrassed by the affair.
“I know everyone looks at this like they were getting high fives in the hallway, but they were absolutely mortified and embarrassed,” Bracic said.
The 18-year-old victim felt as if he was pushed into having sex with Lippert, Bracic said.
“Nobody came out of this happy,” Bracic said.
Lippert’s attorney, Leonard Levine, said his client is “ashamed and embarrassed by her actions for which she takes full responsibility. It cost her a promising and up to this point successful teaching career, and now she wants to move on to be a loving mother, wife and lead a productive life. And she’s very sorry for what has occurred.”
Lippert organized the unapproved Dec. 27-29 camping trip through a group text message to the co-defendant and five male high school students, according to Bracic.
West Covina police contacted sheriff’s investigators Jan. 16 about the party, leading to the arrests of the defendants the next day.
Ghirelli’s attorney, Stephan DeSales, previously told City News Service that his client is “devastated” and that it was not altogether clear to her that the victim was underage.
“There was a lot of stuff going on and it was not clear what the age of this kid was when whatever happened happened,” DeSales said.
Three of the five teens on the camping trip to San Clemente were 18, DeSales said.
“She’s totally devastated,” DeSales said of his client. “She’s a sweet person, a very nice person who was getting her master’s degree at Cal Poly Pomona and now that’s all gone.”
— City News Service
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