Joel Cupp, once a well-liked and well-respected elementary school teacher, will spend the next six years in prison after pleading no contest this week in Citrus County to charges of soliciting teenagers over the Internet for sex.
Cupp, 30, was snared last year in a sting in which authorities said he made overt sexual invitations and exposed himself on a Web cam, thinking he was chatting online with two girls, ages 13 and 14.
But the "girls" were actually investigators from the Citrus County Sheriff's Office and the state Attorney General's Office.
Cupp was arrested at his home on Thrush Drive in New Port Richey on Aug. 16, 2008, just before he was set to begin another year of teaching at Trinity Oaks Elementary. He taught third-, fourth- and fifth-graders there for two years. Before that, he taught at Chasco Elementary in Port Richey.
At the time, authorities said they knew of no real kids contacted by Cupp for sex.
Nothing about Cupp's life pointed to trouble. Trinity Oaks Elementary principal Allison Hoskins said his arrest shocked her.
"He had a great personality, and he worked well with students," Hoskins said in August. "I liked him."
His online Facebook profile depicted an active, happy and deeply religious single man. Even months after his arrest, his friends posted Happy Birthday messages to him.
But a search warrant in the criminal case contained disturbing details. For example, during the online chats Cupp first asked the girls their ages and then suggested getting together for sex.
In one exchange, he acknowledged that 14 was young and then asked the girl about her sexual experience.
He pleaded in Circuit Court to three counts of using the Internet to lure children and one count of lewd and lascivious exhibition by a person older than 18 years. His prison sentence will be followed by six years of probation.
Cupp will also forfeit his teaching license and be labeled a sex offender.
Molly Moorhead can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6245.