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Deputy accepts plea deal in teen sex case Resigns from force after admitting to misconduct with student while assigned to Niagara-Wheatfield

A Niagara County sheriff's deputy accused of having sex with a 16-year-old girl while on assignment at Niagara-Wheatfield Senior High School accepted a plea bargain in Town Court on Thursday.

Hugh C. Messer Jr. pleaded guilty to a single count of attempted official misconduct and resigned from the Sheriff's Office as a condition of the plea.

Messer, 43, of the Town of Niagara, was working as a school resource officer at Niagara-Wheatfield when he was arrested in April 2006 and charged with six misdemeanor counts of sexual misconduct.

He was arrested after an investigation that began when the girl told a school employee that she had consensual sexual contact with Messer in February 2006 and that he had exposed himself to her on another occasion. Messer had been suspended with pay since his arrest 14 months ago.

The most Messer can receive is 90 days in jail when he is sentenced at 10 a.m. Aug. 3 by Town Justice Thomas J. Sheeran.

"We're hopeful there will be no incarceration," defense attorney Herbert L. Greenman said.

District Attorney Matthew J. Murphy III said he has not yet decided what position to take on sentencing.

"It's something that doesn't reflect well on law enforcement," Sheriff Thomas A. Beilein said of the case. "I believe the school district and the Sheriff's Department acted properly in removing him."

Messer's trial was to have begun Monday. Last month, according to Greenman, Sheeran threw out a statement Messer gave to Investigator Joseph Taylor on the grounds that Taylor did not warn Messer that information he gave him about the case could have been used against him in departmental disciplinary proceedings. Murphy said the statement did not amount to a confession.

Beilein called the plea "satisfactory." Greenman said he liked it, too, because Messer did not have to admit to a sex crime, which would have subjected him to the laws regarding registration of sex offenders.

"That was a factor in the decision [to plead guilty]," Greenman said.

Messer, a 14-year deputy, was earning an annual base salary of $51,688, according to county Human Resources Director Peter P. Lopes. Beilein said Messer kept receiving checks once he completed the maximum 30-day unpaid suspension allowed by state civil service law.

The county payroll office said Messer collected $48,477 from the county last year and $23,856 so far this year.

When he graduated from the Niagara County Law Enforcement Academy in 1993, Messer was voted outstanding officer in his class. Greenman said his service record was unblemished before this incident.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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