PITTSBURGH (AP) — A high school teacher identified a student who accused another teacher of a sex crime by pointing at her in front of her classmates and saying he missed school so he could be interviewed by detectives “because of her,” police said Wednesday.
Plum High School teacher Drew Zoldak was arraigned on two counts of witness intimidation. He didn’t immediately return calls to his home seeking comment, and court records don’t list an attorney for him.
Zoldak, 40, told his class Monday that he missed class the previous Friday “because two men in suits from the district attorney’s office were asking me hundreds of questions,” according to the criminal complaint.
When asked why he was questioned, Zoldak pointed to the student who had accused another teacher, Joseph Ruggieri, 40, of having an improper sexual relationship with her and said “because of her,” police said.
Zoldak, of New Kensington, then called the student to the front of his forensic science class “and asked her if she would be OK regarding next week’s topic, which was ‘sexual assault,’” police said.
Allegheny County District Attorney’s spokesman Mike Manko said the charges against Zoldak “involve conduct which is extraordinarily insensitive” and “at worst, it is an intentional effort to use this child’s peers and the school setting to make her uncomfortable and keep her from speaking freely about her victimization.”
The student’s age wasn’t released.
A third Plum teacher, Jason Cooper, 38, was ordered Wednesday to stand trial on charges he, too, had sex with a different student.
County prosecutors contend Cooper began a romantic relationship with the student before she turned 18, but she told police they didn’t have sex until after she turned 18.
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 relationship and “grooming” of the student began before then.
Ruggieri’s attorneys didn’t immediately return a call for comment Wednesday.
Plum police and the district attorney’s office said Ruggieri’s accuser hadn’t been made public before Zoldak disclosed her identity to the class.
Police contend that Zoldak exaggerated his contact with law enforcement, noting he was actually quested by two female detectives — not “two men in suits” — as he told his class, and he blamed the student for Ruggieri’s legal troubles.
“Zoldak implied to detectives that the victim was partly responsible for the offense, stating: ‘It takes two to tango,’” police said.
Plum School District Superintendent Timothy Glasspool issued a statement saying Zoldak has been suspended with pay while the district gathers more information.
The district is cooperating with authorities and “will continue to address any inappropriate behavior and misconduct related to any ongoing investigation,” he said.