LAND O'LAKES — Larry Wideman was furious when he discovered his girlfriend was involved with someone else. He followed the couple in his Chevy Astro van, rammed their car on County Line Road and banged his fists on the car window, authorities said. Inside that car: a suspended high school teacher named Maryann Verdi, 40, and a 17-year-old boy.
Wideman was charged with domestic battery for that Sept. 29 incident, which also triggered a criminal investigation into Verdi's relationship with the teen. That investigation led to Verdi's arrest Wednesday on charges of lewd or lascivious battery and unlawful sexual activity with a minor. She remains at the Land O'Lakes jail in lieu of $20,000 bail.
According to the Pasco County Sheriff's Office, Verdi first had sex with the boy, then 15, in December 2009, when she was a teacher at River Ridge High School. She had sex recently with the same boy, now 17, in her vehicle, authorities said.
Verdi had transferred this fall to Sunlake High School, but was on unpaid leave for other issues when this investigation began. Superintendent Heather Fiorentino had recommended firing Verdi over numerous allegations of unprofessional conduct, ranging from texting during staff meetings and calling some co-workers "bitches" to spending instructional time "talking about alcohol, drugs and (her) experiences in jail."
Verdi originally 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 in an interview last month. But on Oct. 3, as the Sheriff's Office launched its formal investigation into her relationship with the boy, she submitted her resignation.
Verdi became a teacher in 1996, inspired by the instructors she had as an "at-risk" teen at Gulf High School. She said she wanted to help similarly troubled kids.
She worked at River Ridge High School for years, until a March 2010 arrest for domestic battery and battery on a law enforcement officer landed her on unpaid leave.
That arrest stemmed from a fight with her husband. The charges were waived after she completed pretrial intervention.
The district gave Verdi a fresh start this fall with a new assignment at Sunlake High School, teaching U.S. history and world history classes. But she was suspended before classes even began.
A former colleague from River Ridge accused Verdi of sending her profanity-laced text messages over the summer. New colleagues at Sunlake High raised concerns about Verdi's punctuality, attentiveness in meetings, cell phone use and smoking on campus.
Staffers also complained about Verdi's boyfriend, Wideman, who spent time on campus during planning week. One teacher said Wideman, 43, appeared to be impaired. An assistant principal described his behavior as "erratic and almost 'tweaky.' "
Verdi returned from her suspension two weeks into the school year — then was escorted off campus Sept. 9 amid the accusations of using inappropriate language and discussing inappropriate topics in class.
Staff writer Jacqueline Baylon contributed to this report.