The teacher charged with committing lewd acts against nearly two dozen children at Miramonte Elementary School, including feeding them cookies tainted with semen, is expected to plead no contest in court Friday.
In doing so, Mark Berndt, 62, will withdraw his not guilty plea in connection with the more than yearlong L.A. County sheriff's investigation into his conduct at the school. The conclusion of the case was reached after all those involved agreed it was essential to avoid having children testify in court.
In exchange, Berndt has agreed to a sentence of 25 years in prison, multiple sources told The Times.
Berndt was arrested in January 2012 after a South Bay drugstore photo technician alerted authorities to images of children blindfolded, some with tape over their mouths.
Berndt, who taught at the school for three decades, was charged with 23 counts of lewd conduct involving allegations that he spoon-fed semen to blindfolded children as part of what he purportedly called a "tasting game." He also was accused of placing cockroaches on their faces.
Attorney Manny Medrano, who represents Berndt, would not comment on the agreement. The Los Angeles County district attorney's office also declined to comment.
Using the more than 400 photos, authorities spent months tracking down students and conducted dozens of interviews. Ultimately, it was DNA from Berndt's saliva and a spoon and container with semen found inside a bin in his classroom that led prosecutors to charge him.
When the L.A. Unified School District learned of the investigation, he was fired. But Berndt contested his dismissal and the district agreed to pay him $40,000 to drop his appeal.
The allegations stunned the unincorporated community of Florence-Firestone, one of the poorest in Los Angeles County, and led to a series of responses by Los Angeles Unified.
Soon after Berndt's arrest, a second Miramonte teacher, Martin Springer, also was arrested for alleged sexual misconduct involving one girl. He faces three counts of committing lewd acts; he has pleaded not guilty.