WEST CHESTER >> A former substitute administrative aide and teacher’s aide at Unionville High School was led from a Chester County courtroom in handcuffs Wednesday after being sentenced to prison by a judge who said she lived in a “fantasy world” of denying having sexual contact with two students.
“You don’t want to grow up,” Common Pleas Court Judge Patrick Carmody told Sheri Maufort before handing down an 11½ to 23-month term in Chester County Prison, a compromise between what the prosecution and defense had asked for in the case. “You have Peter Pan syndrome.”
Quoting from a letter of support that her father-in-law had written on Maufort’s behalf, Carmody said, “the reason you wanted to work in school was to make sure your daughter wasn’t hanging with the wrong crowd,” he said, noting that the girl had been a student at Unionville and was friends with one of the victims. “The problem was, you were the wrong crowd.”
In addressing Carmody, Maufort disputed the prosecution’s contention that she had performed oral sex with one of the students, a 17-year-old, and kissed and fondled another student, who was 18 at the time. She said her only mistake was being in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people.
“I want to apologize to the two boys for whatever pain my actions may have caused them and their families,” Maufort said in her statement, in which she catalogued the mental health problems she suffers from that kept her from remembering much of what occurred the night of the two incidents for which she was convicted. “I should never have put myself alone with teenage boys in any way.”
But Carmody said her denials of criminal culpability did her no good. He said he had thrown out the original sentence he planned to impose in favor of a longer one. In addition to the prison time she was led away to begin serving, she will be on probation for three years, and can have no unsupervised contact with minors outside of her own children. She must also register as a sex offender for 15 years.
Neither of the former students, who were both Unionville seniors at the time of the incidents in November 2016, attended the proceeding or wrote letters to the court about the impact the case had had on them. According to testimony, both were ambivalent about whether Maufort should have been arrested for her conduct.
Both Assistant District Attorney Erin O’Brien of the DA’s Child Abuse Unit and the defense attorney wrote sentencing memorandums that laid out what they thought Carmody should take into consideration in his sentence.
O’Brien asked Carmody to impose a prison term of two to four years, which would by law have to be served in state prison, plus an extra five years of probation. She also asked Carmody to make her undergo sex offender treatment.
The veteran child abuse prosecutor characterized Maufort’s behavior as using the school in which she worked as a resource for her sexual conquests.
“The defendant’s actions in using her school employment as a hunting ground for illicit and illegal relationships with students is deplorable and the court should consider her ongoing pattern of behavior, over the course of months leading up to September 2016, as an aggravating factor,” she wrote. Her “actions disgraced her, as well as the school district she served.
“Her behavior erodes a parent’s ability to trust that their children are safe and protected in school,” O’Brien wrote.
Addressing the two victims, O’Brien said that they had indeed suffered, even though such a relationship with an older woman might seem to some like a “badge of honor” for a teenage boy.
She said that they had been subjected to “degradation and humiliation, feeling as though they were somehow to blame for (Maufort’s) crimes and the ongoing repercussions,” she wrote in her memo. “Obviously, the opposite is true. The defendant, and the defendant alone, bears responsibility for what occurred.”
In his memo to Carmody, defense attorney Lloyd Long III of Philadelphia focused on the fact that his client has suffered from bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other mental health conditions that affected her judgment in the matter, and that her abuse of drugs and alcohol at the time also played a role in what happened.
And although he did not suggest that what happened between Maufort and the teenagers was lawful in anyway, he said that her contact with the two youths was limited.
“This case is not the typical criminal proceeding involving a teacher having sexual relations with a student,” he wrote. “Mrs. Maufort did not use her position at the school to entice the victims into a sexual relationship,” having known them through her daughter. “She did not groom them through her position. The conduct forming the basis of Mrs. Maufort’s convictions had nothing to do with her involvement at the victims’ school.”
In his memo, Lloyd did not specify what sentence he believed Carmody should impose, but in the hearing suggested a long period of probation would be appropriate. He asked the judge to look sympathetically towards Maufort because of her mental health problems and the facts of the case. He noted that before the case had gone to trial, the prosecution offered a plea bargain that would have called for only a quarter of the jail time O’Brien now called for.
“Mrs. Maufort is a deeply troubled individual who has been self-medicating serious substance mental health issues,” he wrote. “On one night, she did so too heavily and is going to have to live with the consequences of her decisions for the rest of her life.”
Maufort was found guilty in November of two counts of institutional sexual assault, a third-degree felony that deals with sexual contact that school officials have with children they supervise. She was also found guilty of one count each of unlawful contact with a minor and corruption of minors.
Maufort, 43, of Birmingham, was acquitted on two counts of furnishing alcohol to minors.
The three-day-long trial centered around the events of Sept. 16, 2016, when Maufort, who worked as a part-time secretary and teacher’s aide at the highly regarded public high school in East Marlborough, made contact with two male seniors she had met through her work at the school.
In the first instance, testimony showed that Maufort went to a party that was held at a student’s home following a football game. She met up with an 18-year-old who was at the party, drove him to a secluded spot away from the house, kissed him, and touched his groin through his pants. The youth, who then went back to the party, testified that he had told several friends at the party about the incident, although he exaggerated the actual level of sexual contact.
Later that night, according to testimony, Maufort contacted a 17-year-old who was friends with her daughter and who she had planned to hire to play music at a party at another student’s home. She drove him from his house to the parking lot of the Blue Pear Restaurant in Dilworthtown. There, they drank beer and sat in a grassy area, and she performed oral sex on him, he testified.
The episode ended when Maufort’s husband, Rocky Maufort, drove to the scene and met the pair after finding that his wife was not at home. Rocky Maufort testified that he then gave the youth a ride home.
The Daily Local News is withholding the names of both victims because of the nature of the charges.
To contact staff writer Michael P. Rellahan call 610-696-1544.