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Ex-Miramonte teacher to plead no contest to molestation charges

Mark Berndt, the teacher charged with committing lewd acts against nearly two dozen children at Miramonte Elementary School, including spoon-feeding them semen, has agreed to plead no contest to all charges, sources said Thursday.

He has agreed to a sentence of 25 years in prison, multiple sources told The Times.

Berndt, 61, will enter the no contest plea Friday morning in Los Angeles County Superior Court and withdraw his not guilty plea in connection with the more than yearlong L.A. County sheriff’s investigation into his conduct at the South Los Angeles school.

PHOTOS: Parent uproar over Miramonte sex-abuse claims

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The conclusion of the case was reached after all those involved agreed it was essential to avoid having children testify in court.

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 feeding them semen-tainted cookies and placing cockroaches on their faces.

The allegations shook the unincorporated community of Florence-Firestone, one of the poorest in Los Angeles County, that surrounds Miramonte and led to a series of responses by the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Supt. John Deasy moved immediately to replace the entire Miramonte staff — 85 teachers and about 25 others -— for the remainder of the school year to restore confidence in the school. All teachers were eventually exonerated and were able to return to work.

The allegations brought a surge of legal action against L.A. Unified. The Miramonte case has led to payments of $29.54 million to settle lawsuits and claims from 63 students. The cases of 71 students and 65 parents are still being litigated.

“At this point in time, we have yet to see any plea deal or see a court sign off on any arrangement,” said Sean Rossall, a spokesman for the district.

The case prompted Deasy and other L.A. Unified officials to push for legislation that would speed up the teacher-dismissal process. The bill was vehemently opposed by the California Teachers Assn., United Teachers Los Angeles and other labor unions, which called it an attack on due process rights. It died in committee.

L.A. Unified School District chose to pay Berndt $40,000 to retire rather than take him through the dismissal process.

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stephen.ceasar@latimes.com | Twitter: @stephenceasar

richard.winton@latimes.com


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