Alternative school counselor sentenced to up to 23 months jail for sexual contact with teen student
April 8, 2010
NORRISTOWN – Calling her former school counselor “unethical,” a teenage girl dramatically confronted the man in court about his betrayal that involved sexual contact with the girl.
“What you did, Mr. Lattari, brought me down for a long time. But I can sit here in front of you and say I will not let you take any more from me,” the emotional 17-year-old girl testified Wednesday in Montgomery County Court during the sentencing hearing for Michael James Lattari.
“You were wrong. You were a man who I entrusted with knowledge of my life, whom I was supposed to receive help from because that was your job. Your job was to be a counselor, not a friend, not a buddy, just a school counselor,” the Montgomery County girl continued. “And what makes you even more disgusting to me is the fact that you were in an alternative school, a last chance for many kids to straighten out their lives.”
Lattari, 42, formerly of West Moreland Road, Upper Moreland, cast his eyes downward as the girl bravely addressed him.
“You were unethical and then some, disgraced a good school’s name and used your authority to mess me up,” the girl, who was 16 at the time of the incident, testified.
Judge Thomas P. Rogers sentenced Lattari to four-to-23-months in the county jail, to be followed by two years’ probation, in connection with the January 2009 incident. The judge also prohibited Lattari from engaging in activities that involve minors, including Lattari’s disc jockey job that can include events attended by minors.
At the time of the incident, Lattari, who pleaded guilty to a charge of corruption of a minor, was a counselor at the Lifeworks Alternative School in Doylestown, Bucks County, which the girl attended.
The sexual contact did not occur in the school or on school grounds but at Lattari’s Upper Moreland apartment, according to the criminal complaint filed by Upper Moreland Detective Maureen A. Kund. Lattari voluntarily resigned from the school after the allegations came to light, authorities said.
“This was the manipulation, not only of a young impressionable girl, but of somebody who was dealing with emotional issues, somebody who already was in a fragile, emotional state,” said Assistant District Attorney Kate McGill, who argued for jail time against Lattari. “He took advantage of his power of authority in the worst possible way.”
Defense lawyer Anthony J. Petrone sought leniency in the form of probation for Lattari, arguing Lattari is remorseful and has no prior criminal record. Petrone implied Lattari has already suffered greatly because he lost his professional license and will never be able to be employed in an educational setting again, his eight years of night school to get his master’s degree, “down the tubes.”
“He’s tried to do everything he could to correct that one mistake he made in his life,” said Petrone, who argued there was no allegation that Lattari used force during the incident.
Lattari, who most recently listed a Philadelphia address, apologized to the girl, her family and to the school where he was once employed.
“It was not my intention to hurt anyone even though I did. I make no excuses for my lapse of judgment. This will never happen again,” Lattari said.
Judge Rogers said jail is warranted, given the trust that Lattari breached as an educator and to send a message that such conduct will not be tolerated.
“It’s a tremendous lack of judgment when these events occur,” said Rogers, indicating he didn’t doubt Lattari’s remorse. “But there has to be an accountability. I am convinced this has had a significant impact on the victim in this case.”
The girl and her mother testified that the girl’s life was “turned upside down” after the incident, with the girl suffering bouts of depression, insomnia, low self-esteem and emotional problems for which she has sought therapy. The girl testified she looked to Lattari for guidance but got “something completely the reverse of that,” a world of emotional trouble and trust issues.
“My body has never felt normal again. I can still feel him, hear him and see him. Everywhere I go I unconsciously memorize my surroundings, even planning escape routes in case something were to happen,” the girl testified. “I am hyper vigilant and on edge.”
An investigation of Lattari began in January 2009 when the girl reported to police that she had a relationship with Lattari. The girl told authorities Lattari befriended her, beyond the student/counselor relationship, and socialized with her outside of school, according to the arrest affidavit.
“There were also phone conversations between the two, some of which became sexual in nature,” Kund alleged in the criminal complaint. “During these conversations, Lattari told (the girl) he had feelings for her, he was attracted to her and he was masturbating while he was speaking with her.”
The girl, according to the arrest affidavit, told authorities that Lattari picked her up near her home on Jan. 2 and drove her to his apartment. While they were alone at the apartment Lattari began kissing the girl and the pair subsequently engaged in sexual conduct, detectives alleged.
Lattari tried to convince the girl not to tell anyone about the incident and told her she had to keep it “hushed,” according to court papers.
“He also told her if she said anything he would get fired, people would lose trust in him and it would be all over the news,” Kund wrote in arrest documents.
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