(FOX 11 / AP) A once-respected former teacher accused of committing lewd acts on
children in what he called "tasting games" pleaded no contest Friday to
all the charges against him.
Mark Berndt, 62, entered the legal equivalent of guilty pleas to 23
charges at a hearing Friday. The plea agreement calls for the former
Miramonte Elementary School teacher to be sentenced to 25 years in
John Manly, an attorney who represents 30 of Berndt's students and
their parents, said Thursday that he was notified of the plea by
prosecutors, who urged a deal because "they were concerned about
re-traumatizing the children at trial."
He called the agreement a victory for his clients.
"He's going to jail essentially for the rest of his life," Manly said. "You can't ask for more than that."
The district attorney's office and Berndt's lawyer declined to comment in advance of the court hearing.
Berndt admitted that he blindfolded students while spoon-feeding them
semen-laced cookies and sometimes put huge cockroaches on them.
Sean Rossall, a district spokesman, said 63 lawsuits filed on behalf
of victims have been settled for a total of $29.5 million, and 71 more
He said the district had not seen the plea agreement and wouldn't comment until it's entered in court.
Berndt, who taught for 32 years at the South Los Angeles school, was removed in 2011.
The allegations against him came to light when a drugstore photo
technician noticed dozens of odd photos of blindfolded third-graders and
reported them to authorities. Investigators said they discovered a
plastic spoon in Berndt's classroom trash bin. Tests found traces of
semen on it.
The Miramonte case led to a wide-ranging overhaul of how the nation's
second-largest school district handles allegations of sexual abuse
after it was revealed that previous complaints about Berndt's behavior
were ignored. It also showed how slowly state officials act to censure
teachers and led to a flurry of allegations of teacher-student sex abuse
in the district and in other school systems.
Shortly after Berndt's arrest, the school district temporarily
removed all 76 of the school's teachers, along with staff and
administrators, putting them on leave and having them report to an empty
high school nearby. Six months later, when the new school year began,
43 of them returned to a restructured Miramonte with a new principal.
The rest either retired or went to new schools. None was accused of any
Manly denounced the district for allowing Berndt to continue teaching after complaints in the 1990s.
Another Miramonte teacher, Martin Springer, is charged with lewd acts
on a child in a case involving a second-grader that authorities said
was fondled in class in 2009. Springer is awaiting trial.