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Published: Friday, 12/13/2013

Steubenville officials face charges from 2nd case

Girl, 14, reported rape in April, recanted

BY TORSTEN OVE
BLOCK NEWS ALLIANCE

STEUBENVILLE, Ohio — Largely lost in the media crush after the indictments of school officials in the Steubenville rape case is the fact that several charges involve allegations of a second rape during another drunken teen party four months before the one that drew worldwide scrutiny to the Ohio Valley town.

School employees, including Superintendent Mike McVey, will be arraigned today along with others indicted in the aftermath of the August, 2012, rape by two high school football players.

Some charges pertain to attempts to cover up the sexual assault of a 16-year-old West Virginia girl by Trent Mays and Ma’Lik Richmond, both of whom were convicted.

But the charge against elementary school Principal Lynnett Gorman, and at least some of the counts against Mr. McVey, involve their response to an April, 2012, incident in which a 14-year-old girl said she was raped by a group of baseball players at a coach’s house.

The girl and her mother first made the complaint to the sheriff’s office in Jefferson County in September, 2012, after the investigation had begun into the August rape. Sheriff Fred Abdalla turned the matter over to Steubenville police, who referred it to the attorney general’s office.

In March, after a judge convicted the two football players, a special grand jury was empaneled to investigate any evidence of a cover-up surrounding both incidents, said Dan Tierney, spokesman for the attorney general’s office.

He would not describe the April incident any further, but no suspects were ever identified. A law enforcement source said the girl later recanted and said the sex was consensual.

The indictments of Ms. Gorman and Mr. McVey refer to specific actions regarding how they handled the initial allegation.

The indictment against Mr. McVey covers a period from April 5, 2012, through Nov. 19, 2013. He faces two counts of obstruction of justice, a count of tampering with evidence, which are all felonies, and misdemeanor counts of falsification and obstructing official business.

The indictment does not provide any details or indicate which counts pertain to which incident, and the attorney general’s office will not comment.

His lawyer, Charles Bean, did not respond to repeated messages.

The indictment against Ms. Gorman, whose husband is vice principal at the high school, says she failed to report child abuse on or about April 12, 2012. Under Ohio law, school officials are mandated to report suspected child abuse even if the claim is not proved.

Her lawyer, Dennis McNamara, said Ms. Gorman heard talk of a party in early April in which there was sexual activity. He said the extent of her involvement was to inquire of other parents if her son, a high school student, had been there. She was told he wasn’t and left it at that.

Mr. McNamara said his client did not know the details of what happened at the party.

“She was satisfied that what happened was a bad thing, in the sense that there was underage drinking and there was talk about them engaging in sexual activity,” he said. “She didn’t know the age of this girl.”

He said his client was questioned by state agents and then unfairly lumped together with the others accused.

“She’s conscientious,” he said. “She’s offended that anyone would suggest that she does not have the best interests of children at heart.”

The April incident has been known around town, and reported previously by some media outlets, because students referred to it in the aftermath of the August case.

Michael Nodianos, whose YouTube rant mocking the 16-year-old victim of the August rape became state’s evidence and made him a pariah, joked about it drunkenly in his video.

“You thought it was bad when the girl got raped at Palooza,” he said. “This is worse.”

Palooza is the nickname for the home of Joe Pierro, the high school baseball coach, who was out of town when the April party was held.

The party occurred heading into the Easter weekend, but the date isn’t clear. Steubenville police reports don’t provide a date other than early April. Students tweeted about it on Easter and in the next few days, just as they did after the August rape.

Attorney Robert Fitzsimmons, who represents the 16-year-old rape victim and the 14-year-old girl, said he could not comment.

Others indicted are Seth Fluharty, a wrestling coach; Matt Belardine, a former volunteer football coach whose house was the scene of the August party; and William Rhinaman, the district’s director of technology.

Mr. Fluharty is accused of failing to report suspected child abuse, the same charge Ms. Gorman faces, in regard to the August rape. Mr. Belardine is charged with allowing underage drinking, obstructing official business, falsification, and contributing to delinquency of a minor, all misdemeanors, also in regard to the August case. Mr. Rhinaman, who had been indicted earlier, is charged with felony counts of tampering with evidence, perjury, and obstructing justice, and a misdemeanor count of obstructing official business.

His daughter, Hannah Rhinaman, was indicted on unrelated theft charges uncovered during the course of the grand jury probe.

All six are scheduled to appear today at the Jefferson County Courthouse. Mr. McVey, Ms. Gorman, Mr. Fluharty, and Mr. Belardine will all be arraigned. The Rhinamans already have been arraigned and will appear for pretrial hearings.

Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Torsten Ove is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.

Contact Torsten Ove at: tove@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1510.



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