NEWPORT BEACH (CBSLA.com) — Two former Covina-Valley Unified School District teachers pleaded not guilty Wednesday to felony sex charges in connection with a San Clemente camping trip involving underage students, alcohol and drugs.
Melody Suzanne Lippert, 28, of Covina, is accused of playing “matchmaker” for co-defendant Michelle Louise Ghirelli, 30, of West Covina, who is charged with having sex with a 17-year-old boy during the camping trip at San Clemente State Beach, according to Deputy District Attorney Kristin Bracic.
Bail was set at $50,000 for Ghirelli, a teacher at South Hills High School in West Covina, and $20,000 for Lippert, an employee in the Covina-Valley Unified School District. They are scheduled to return to court on April 15 for a hearing on a defense motion seeking records from the school district’s investigation of the defendants, who were charged with the felonies on Monday.
The defendants were initially charged last month with a misdemeanor count of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. More serious sex-related felonies were not filed then because investigators at the time lack enough evidence, the prosecutor said.
But a school district-related investigation that uncovered alleged cocaine use at the party led Orange County sheriff’s deputies to re-interview witnesses in the case, Bracic said. Cell phone records also helped convince investigators that Ghirelli knew the boy was 17, she said.
Lippert organized the unapproved Dec. 27-29 camping trip through a group text message/invitation 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.
Lippert is charged with one felony count each of unlawful sexual intercourse and furnishing a controlled substance to a minor, along with a sentencing enhancement for being more than four years older than the victim.
Ghirelli is charged with the same counts, plus a felony count of oral copulation of a minor, and would have to register as a sex offender if convicted.
Lippert, however, “facilitated the relationship between Miss Ghirelli and the 17-year-old, and therefore she is fully responsible under the law,” Bracic said. “I think the bottom line for teachers out there is keep your hands off your students.”
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