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HERMITAGE Ex-coach admits sex with 3 students



Published: Tue, June 26, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The district attorney accepted the plea arrangement because Votino admitted responsibility and the reputations of the victims are vindicated.

By HAROLD GWIN

VINDICATOR SHARON BUREAU

HERMITAGE, Pa. -- Joseph Votino, former Kennedy Christian High School dean of students and longtime head basketball coach, has admitted having sexual intercourse with three 17-year-old female students over two years.

He has agreed to plead guilty to corruption of the morals of a minor, a misdemeanor that carries a maximum sentence of 21/2 to five years in state prison, authorities said.

All three students had worked as volunteer aides in his office, authorities said.

He even bought one of the victims a pre-engagement ring and promised to propose marriage to her at the Empire State Building in New York after she completed two years of college, authorities said.

He asked all three to lie about what had occurred after learning he was under criminal investigation, authorities said.

Votino, 44, of Syme Street, Masury, was fired by the school May 18 after an investigation. Reached at his home Monday night, he had no comment.

He was initially suspended April 9 less than a week after allegations against him surfaced.

The school and the Erie Catholic Diocese have said they won't comment on the case.

The Hermitage police department filed a criminal complaint Monday against Votino in the office of District Justice James McMahon, and he was expected to be arraigned today.

Plea agreement: Among the court documents was a copy of a plea agreement signed by Votino and his attorney June 15 in which he admitted having repeated sexual contact with all three juveniles knowing that they were under 18, acknowledged flirting with and seducing them, and admitted having sexual contact with all three on school property during school hours.

He also acknowledged the illegality of his actions.

James P. Epstein, Mercer County district attorney, said he agreed to the plea because Votino admitted his guilt and responsibility and that vindicated the reputations of the three young women involved.

It also permanently removes Votino from any high school coaching scenario and leaves him subject to a jail term, he said.

The agreement is limited to the three victims in this specific criminal case. There could be additional prosecution if more victims surface, Epstein said.

Other possible jurisdictions: The probable cause affidavit filed with the complaint said the repeated sexual encounters included but weren't limited to kissing, fondling and hugging in school as well as sexual intercourse, oral intercourse and other sexual activity at Votino's home in Brookfield Township and at least one location in Sharon.

Both Brookfield and Sharon police said they have no ongoing investigations in this matter.

Sharon Police Chief Raymond Greene said the allegation of a sexual encounter between Votino and one of the students at a home in Sharon was investigated and wrapped into the Hermitage case.

Brookfield Township Police Chief Dan Faustino said his office has no information or alleged victims to launch an investigation at this time.

Epstein said a copy of the Mercer County investigation and court documents will be forwarded to Brookfield although, as part of the plea agreement, there is no referral to the U.S. attorney or the Trumbull County prosecutor for an investigation.

Unfolding of probe: Epstein said his office was tipped off to Votino's activities when a Kennedy Christian faculty member called a state child abuse hot line after being told by a student about a girl being victimized by Votino.

Authorities interviewed the first reported victim April 5, but she denied any sexual relationship with Votino. In an April 26 interview, however, she admitted what was happening and said they had a sexual relationship from Jan. 27 of this year until April 8 while she was 17.

Epstein said the name of a second victim surfaced during the investigation and that girl told investigators she and Votino had a sexual relationship between February and April of this year. She turned 18 during that time, Epstein said.

She told authorities that Votino discussed marriage with her, bought her a pre-engagement ring and promised to propose at the Empire State Building in New York City after she completed her second year of college.

The name of a third victim, who graduated in 2000, also surfaced, and that young woman told authorities that Votino seduced her and they had a sexual relationship that began in February 2000 while she was still 17 and ran into the spring of that year after she turned 18, Epstein said.

She told authorities she had sexual intercourse with Votino at his home before every boys basketball game during that time, the affidavit said.

In 19 seasons, Votino recorded a 429-130 record, leading Kennedy Christian's boys basketball team to six PIAA Class A state championships, including the last four in a row.

gwin@vindy.com




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