Wednesday, December 13, 2017
News Roundup

Pasco teacher sentenced for sex with student; he tries to move on

Kathy felt sick when she read the text messages between her teenage son and former Pasco teacher Maryann Verdi. They were so sexually explicit she "wanted to throw up."

Pasco deputies discovered the texts after a car crash involving the boy, then 17, and Verdi in 2011. They revealed a relationship spanning years, starting when the boy was 15. Kathy said Verdi introduced her son to drugs and left a deep scar on her family — one that's still healing.

"She deserves to burn in hell," said Kathy, whose last name is not being used to avoid identifying her son. "I'm not interested in forgiveness."

Verdi, 42, pleaded guilty last month to charges of unlawful sexual activity with a minor and harassing a witness. Prosecutors said she sent the boy a Facebook message through someone else's account in 2012, when she was forbidden to have contact with him.

Circuit Court Judge Mary Handsel sentenced Verdi to two years in prison, two years of house arrest and three additional years of sex offender probation. She will have to register as a sex offender and relinquish her teaching certificate.

For Kathy, the sentence ended a nightmarish saga for her and her son, but she said it didn't necessarily provide the type of resolution they were seeking.

"Closure will be when my son goes on with his life and makes something of himself," she said. "That will be the real closure."

Verdi's troubles are well documented by her criminal history, but her path — although rocky — wasn't always a downward slope.

Inspired by the instructors she had as a troubled teen at Gulf High School, she started teaching in 1996.

"I was stealing, skipping, everything you can think of," Verdi told the Times in a 2011 interview.

She won the school's Turnaround Award in 1988, and said she wanted to help similarly troubled kids.

At River Ridge High School in 2009, Verdi "zoned in" on the 15-year-old boy. She offered him drugs and he got hooked, Kathy said. They had sex.

In 2010, deputies arrested Verdi on charges of battery on a law enforcement officer stemming from a fight with her then-husband. The School Board placed her on unpaid leave, and the charges were dropped after she completed pre-trial intervention.

Her chance at redemption came in 2011 with a new assignment at Sunlake High School teaching history classes, but it didn't take long for students and teachers to complain about her behavior.

Colleagues complained about Verdi's punctuality, attentiveness in meetings, cellphone use and smoking on campus.

"She told us she couldn't hand back our papers because she spilled beer on them and they reeked," one student wrote in an evaluation.

Again, she was placed on unpaid leave but vowed to fight for her job: "It's gossip. A lot of it is hearsay. And it's not the truth," she told the Times.

All that time, she and the boy were still involved. They were riding in a car together on County Line Road in October 2011 when Verdi's boyfriend slammed into them. Suspecting she was cheating, he had been following them.

She resigned that same month when the Sheriff's Office launched a formal investigation about her relationship with the boy. She was out on bail until the Facebook incident, and she's been incarcerated for about a year — for which she'll get credited as time served on her sentence.

"I wish she had gotten more time," Kathy said, "but I'm glad she's going to be labeled a sex offender because that's what she is."

After the allegations, Kathy took her son to mental health counselors and therapy because he was depressed and detached.

He eventually got arrested and was put in a court-mandated rehabilitation facility. Things are still tough, his mother said, but they take it day by day.

The young man, now 19, is attending college. He attends a 12-step program regularly, she said, and has plans to be a psychologist.

"He wants to help other kids get through what he's gone through," she said.

Contact Jon Silman at (727) 869-6229, [email protected] or @Jonsilman1 on Twitter.

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