When Matthew Warner began sending text messages to female students on the track team he coached, they were mostly of an informative nature, such as practice times, an assistant Lucas County prosecutor said Tuesday.
But communications from the former junior high teacher and assistant track coach at Washington Local Schools at some point turned sexual in nature and eventually progressed to the exchange of several nude photos.
Warner, 26, of 5754 Harvest Lane pleaded no contest in Lucas County Common Pleas Court to one count of importuning and four counts of illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material or performance. Judge Myron Duhart found him guilty and set a Feb. 7 sentencing date.
He faces up to five years in prison and will be classified a sexually oriented offender.
Assistant County Prosecutor Frank Spryszak said the interactions occurred while Warner was a teacher and high school coach and involved two 15-year-olds and a 16-year-old.
In two cases, the victims were members of the high school track team and Warner was their coach, Mr. Spryszak said. The third victim was a student at Jefferson Middle School whom Warner initially contacted via Facebook.
Mr. Spryszak said the incidents occurred between Jan. 1, 2010, and April 21 — the day Mr. Warner resigned from the school district — and that he used both texting and social media Web sites to interact with the victims.
In each case, the prosecutor said, the conversations developed over time to Warner requesting that the students send him nude and partially nude photos of themselves.
In one case, the student sent seven fully nude photos of herself, and in another, the student sent at least 15 but possibly as many as 60 photos of herself, Mr. Spryszak said.
“He also sent 10 nude pictures of himself to the victim,” Mr. Spryszak said, referring to the 16-year-old. “They had also discussed engaging in sexual activity although there is no proof that they did.”
Warner and his attorney, Jay Feldstein, declined to comment after the plea hearing.
School records indicate that the incidents came to light when a student reported to a teacher that another student was exchanging sexual text messages with the track coach.
Warner was placed on administrative leave at the time the allegations surfaced.
Mr. Spryszak said Warner cooperated in the investigation and resigned April 21 from his position at Whitmer High School. He added that Warner has since voluntarily forfeited his Ohio teaching certificate.
Neither the victims nor their parents were at Tuesday’s court hearing.
As part of a plea agreement, the state will remain silent at the sentencing hearing. State law indicates that there is a presumptive prison sentence for the counts, which are fifth-degree felonies.
Mr. Spryszak explained that at sentencing, one count of importuning will be dismissed because the law mandates that the victim must be between 13 and 15 years old.
The victim in the case was 16 at the time of the offense, he said.
A charge of tampering with evidence also will be dismissed at Warner’s sentencing.
The count related to allegations that Warner deleted the messages from his phone and that he encouraged the victims to do the same, Mr. Spryszak said.
Investigating officers and the victim’s parents agreed to the dismissals, he said.
During each of his three years at Washington Local Schools, Warner coached track, starting with the junior high team.
He worked as a freshman track coach for one year and then was promoted to assistant girls’ track coach at Whitmer High School.
A recent review of Mr. Warner’s personnel file by The Blade showed that he received consistently good marks in his annual performance reviews.
Contact Erica Blake at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-213-2134.
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