Teachers charged with having sex with students, giving them cocaine
Two female teachers who took male high school students on a camping trip to a San Clemente beach were charged Monday with supplying the students with alcohol and cocaine and having unlawful sexual intercourse, prosecutors said.
Michelle Ghirelli, 30, of West Covina, and Melody Lippert, 38, of Covina, are each charged with a felony count of unlawful sexual intercourse and an additional felony count of giving a controlled substance to a minor, according to the Orange County district attorney’s office. Ghirelli was also charged with a felony count of oral copulation of a minor.
Lippert, a former teacher at South Hills High School in West Covina, and Ghirelli, a former employee at the Covina-Valley Unified School District, are scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday in Newport Beach.
“We intend to plead not guilty and intend to vigorously defend this case,” Ghirelli’s attorney, Stephen DeSales, told The Times. “What you will get from the district attorney is what they think they can prove,” DeSales said before adding, “There’s two sides to every story.”
Between Nov. 23, 2014, and Dec. 29, 2014, prosecutors say the pair camped with five students at a San Clemente beach, where they handed out alcohol and cocaine to the students.
During the trip, prosecutors say Lippert, who organized the outing by sending a group message, facilitated Ghirelli’s sexual abuse of a 17-year-old.
The pair were arrested in January on suspicion of statutory rape, according to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. Until Monday, prosecutors had formally charged the women with a misdemeanor count each of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, which both still face.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Kristin Bracic told The Times in February that the sex between Ghirelli and the underage boy was not in dispute, but Ghirelli had provided various reasons for why she thought the boy was 18.
The school district placed Lippert and Ghirelli on paid administrative leave in January, but both resigned last week, according to district spokeswoman Michelle Van Der Linden.
If convicted on all charges, Ghirelli faces up to 11 years, eight months in state prison, and Lippert faces up to 10 years and six months.
For breaking news in California, follow @MattHjourno.
The stories shaping California
Get up to speed with our Essential California newsletter, sent six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.