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FORMER LEW-PORT SHOP TEACHER SPARED JAIL TIME IN SEXUAL HARASSMENT CASE

Patrick A. O'Keefe Jr., the middle school shop teacher accused of having sexual contact with five female pupils, was sentenced Thursday to 15 work weekends in Niagara County Jail.

Town Justice Peter L. Broderick sentenced the 34-year-old Lewiston-Porter teacher to the program based on his Sept. 25 guilty pleas to two second-degree harassment charges, reduced from seven counts of sexual abuse and five counts of endangering the welfare of a child.

Under the plea bargain, O'Keefe agreed to resign from his $43,444 teaching post and surrender his state teaching certificate, effectively preventing him from teaching in state public schools.

O'Keefe was arrested in December 1997 after he was accused of having sexual contact with four juvenile girls. A fifth girl lodged a harassment against him last winter for inappropriate touching. The incidents occurred from May 1996 to January 1997 and involved girls ranging in age from 13 to 15.

"I feel you have violated one of the foundations of our educational system. When we send our children to school we trust that they will be educated and protected and free from this kind of conduct. You have violated that trust," Broderick told O'Keefe.

He said O'Keefe would not have to stay overnight in jail, but would have to report there on Saturday and Sunday mornings for 15 weekends.

Broderick said he did not give O'Keefe jail time "to accommodate the interests of the young girls so they won't have to come in and testify. Some are still having trouble with this (dealing with problems caused from their contact with O'Keefe)."

Had O'Keefe been sentenced to jail, he reserved the right -- as part of the plea bargain agreement -- to withdraw his guilty pleas and have the case go to trial which would probably have forced the girls to testify.

Assistant District Attorney Jeanne Juliao said she believed the plea deal served justice and the girls' best interests. "It was a traumatic experience and this, hopefully, will put it behind them. They're bright, nice girls. This should be the end," she added.

Ms. Juliao also motioned the court to keep O'Keefe's court record from being sealed so it is accessible to people who may need to know what occurred.

Barry N. Covert, O'Keefe's lawyer, told Broderick, he would file papers by Monday or Tuesday arguing against the motion.

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