Teacher in Sex Case Charged Again With Intimidating Girl

A western Pennsylvania high school teacher awaiting trial on charges he had sex with a student has been charged for a second time with trying to intimidate the girl - this time by allegedly sending her cryptic emails from his school-issued laptop computer.

The defense attorney for Plum High School teacher Joseph Ruggieri, 40, did not immediately comment Tuesday on the new witness intimidation charge.

Ruggieri is one of two Plum teachers awaiting trial on charges of having sex with a student. Ruggieri was previously charged with witness intimidation for allegedly contacting the girl after his arrest on the sex charges, and a judge released him on house arrest in April with the explicit order that he not contact the girl, and not use either the Internet or a cellphone.

But according to an affidavit filed with the charges Monday by a Plum police detective, Ruggieri did all three.

On April 26, Ruggieri allegedly described a romantic country cottage in an email titled, "Need an Amish getaway?" The student told police the email references her relationship with Ruggieri, though the criminal affidavit did not explain how.

A man whose voice the girl recognized as Ruggieri's called her 30 minutes after the email and identified himself as "Joey" before she hung up, police said.

On May 11, the girl received another email from a different address, with the subject line: "A song that captures it all."

The girl told police the message contained a YouTube link to a favorite song of hers, and this message: "Perfection in a song might be defined as the ability to make someone cry every time he/she presses play, even on repeat."

That same message also included an Internet link to a story the girl believes was written by Ruggieri which ``contained 48 specific references that the Victim believes describes her and her relationship with Ruggieri,'' police said.

Plum School District has cooperated with authorities, and helped them identify the laptop used in the new charges as one issued to Ruggieri.

An Allegheny County grand jury is investigating whether district officials knew about teacher-student relationships before Ruggieri and another teacher, Jason Cooper, 38, of Verona, were charged earlier this year.

County prosecutors contend Cooper began a romantic relationship with another student before she turned 18, but she told police they didn't have sex until after.

Cooper's attorney, Michael DeRiso, has argued that the institutional sexual assault charge filed in that case doesn't apply once a student is 18, but prosecutors contend it can if the ``grooming'' of the student began before then.

A third teacher is awaiting trial, also on witness intimidation charges, for allegedly pointing out Ruggieri's accuser in class.

That teacher, Drew Zoldak, 40, allegedly told his students in April that he missed school so he could be interviewed by detectives "because of her." Zoldak's attorney has argued those allegations, even if true, don't amount to witness intimidation and said Zoldak didn't try to keep the girl from testifying against Ruggieri.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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