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Trinity Oaks Elementary teacher arrested in sex chat case

NEW PORT RICHEY — Joel Cupp came to orientation at Trinity Oaks Elementary School on Wednesday to meet his new students and their parents ahead of the school year.

A day later, authorities arrested the 29-year-old teacher on charges he tried to solicit kids for sex over the Internet.

Cupp, of 5848 Thrush Drive, engaged in sexually graphic chats and exposed himself on a Web cam multiple times, all while thinking he was chatting online with young teenage girls, according to the Florida Attorney General's Office.

Posing as a child, an undercover detective with the office's CyberCrime Unit began chatting with Cupp this summer. The office soon discovered an overlapping investigation by the Citrus County Sheriff's Office — authorities say Cupp was engaging in explicit chats with Citrus investigators, too.

The agencies teamed up and on Thursday, with help from New Port Richey police, investigators searched Cupp's home, seized his computer and arrested him.

"He made a full admission to the acts," said Lt. Michael Baute, with the Florida Attorney General's Office.

Baute said he hopes a forensic investigation of Cupp's computer will reveal how long he was engaging in the criminal activity and whether he made contact with any actual kids.

At this point, Baute said, authorities don't know of any children, including any Trinity Oaks students, contacted for sex by Cupp. He would not say what else turned up in the search of Cupp's house.

Trinity Oaks principal Allison Hoskins learned of the investigation Thursday. She said the news was sad and shocking, especially considering the caliber of teacher Cupp had been.

"He had a great personality, and he worked well with students," Hoskins said. "I liked him."

He resigned Thursday. He had been at Trinity Oaks, where he taught third-, fourth- and fifth-graders for two years. Before that he taught at Chasco Elementary in Port Richey.

• • •

Pasco County school superintendent Heather Fiorentino said the school district will send a team of crisis counselors to Trinity Oaks on Monday, the first day of school, to help any students struggling with the news.

"There are a lot of questions to be asked right now. … It's a very confusing time for everyone," Fiorentino said.

Cupp is single with no children, authorities said. His profile on the social networking site Facebook depicts a deeply religious person with interests in pop culture, sports and the outdoors.

On a separate blog, titled Joel's Journeys, Cupp quotes the Bible and describes events in his life through the prism of his faith. In June, he wrote of a busy end to the last school year, saying he had bought a house, found a girlfriend and was missing his students — his "kiddos."

"God is good though, so so good! He has blessed me beyond what I can even fathom," Cupp wrote.

Cupp, who was being booked into the Pasco County jail Thursday evening, faces three counts of luring or soliciting children to engage in a sex act and a single count of lewd or lascivious exhibition. Those charges are for his chats with the Citrus investigators, officials say. More charges are pending from the state investigation.

If convicted of the third-degree felonies now charged, Cupp faces up to 20 years in prison. He has no previous arrests in Florida.

Times staff writer Jeffrey S. Solochek and researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. Molly Moorhead can be reached at moorhead@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6245.

Trinity Oaks Elementary teacher arrested in sex chat case 08/14/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 19, 2008 8:16pm]
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