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Three NP staffers charged in child seduction case involving same boy, 16

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Child seduction charges were filed Tuesday afternoon in a case involving three North Putnam School Corporation staff members and their alleged physical involvement with a 16-year-old male student.

Charged with child seduction (a Class D felony), as filed in Putnam Circuit Court by Putnam County Prosecutor Tim Bookwalter, are:

-- Nicholas A. Vester, 24, Lafayette, a substitute Spanish teacher at North Putnam High School for approximately 12 weeks this past fall.

-- Craig E. Rogers, 24, Indianapolis, the North Putnam band director who has been on paid administrative leave since Jan. 18 because of the external investigation that resulted in Tuesday's charges. Rogers has been employed by the corporation since the start of the school year.

Brandon D. Largent
-- Brandon D. Largent, 20, Crawfordsville, who had been working at North Putnam as a paid lifeguard and volunteer swim instructor since November. Largent has submitted his resignation but the school board took no action on it at the Feb. 16 meeting.

Although all three face the same charge of child seduction, the arrest warrant for Vester accuses him of engaging in "deviant sexual conduct, to wit, anal intercourse and oral sex, with the intent to arouse or satisfy the sexual desires" of himself or the victim.

The arrest warrants for Rogers and Largent accuse them of engaging in "fondling or touching with the intent to arouse or satisfy the sexual desires" of themselves or the victim.

A Class D felony is punishable by six months to three years in prison with a fine of not more than $10,000.

Putnam Circuit Court Judge Matthew Headley was presented with the report on the allegations Tuesday afternoon, Bookwalter explained.

"The judge found that probable cause existed for charges to be filed, and he signed arrest warrants for all three individuals," the prosecutor said.

Craig E. Rogers
By 8 p.m. Tuesday, Rogers and Largent had turned themselves in at the Putnam County Jail. Vester was arrested at his Lafayette home by Indiana State Police troopers. All three were held without bond with an initial court appearance scheduled Wednesday morning.

The unprecedented nature of the North Putnam case was not lost Prosecutor Bookwalter.

"This is the first case I have had involving allegations of a staff member and student in a Putnam County school, let alone three," he told the Banner Graphic.

The probable cause affidavit also reports a connection between at least two of the defendants, Vester and Rogers.

In the court document, Indiana State Police Det. Jason Callaway reported that Vester not only stated "he knew Mr. Rogers (but) that they had a date together in November or December 2011, and they had talked about (the victim)."

While the timetable is not distinct and seems to overlap between defendants, it appears Vester was the first staff member to have contact with the juvenile student. He also admitted to the most physical activity.

"Mr. Vester stated that he became involved with the juvenile student about three or four weeks after he started working at the school," the probable cause affidavit states in a timeframe that would correspond with early October 2011.

Nicholas A. Vester
Vester told investigators he and the boy communicated via cell phone with text messages and photos, exchanging five nude photographs and other pictures in their underwear, he told police.

Their alleged relationship intensified in November, and Vester reported meeting the student in Tippecanoe County on Black Friday. The substitute teacher told investigators he drove the boy to the Ashley Furniture Store parking lot "where kissing and oral sex was performed in his car," the affidavit states.

Such activity continued and ultimately involved further alleged sodomy by Vester against the teenager. That reportedly occurred after they left a December 2011 basketball game at North Putnam together and pulled off a county road a couple miles from the school to engage in sexual activity.

Vester further testified that he had kissed the student in school "about 10 or 15 times" and that their time together "included touching."

NPHS Band Director Rogers was reportedly introduced to the boy by Vester.

Rogers -- whose suspension brought the issue into the open Feb. 16 after parents received a letter about his suspended status from North Putnam Principal Alan Zerkel -- told investigators that he kissed and hugged the boy in school on three separate occasions, once in early December and twice in January. He also said they, too, communicated via text messages.

During the student's statement to police, he admitted touching and "making out with tongue" but had no intercourse with Rogers. He told authorities that he told Rogers "no more," and the band director complied with the teen's wishes.

Meanwhile, Largent said he and the student exchanged photos and texts, leading to an admitted kiss in the school late one afternoon in early January.

Largent was suspended by school officials on Jan. 19, and resigned four days later.

The victim told investigators his contact with Largent, an assistant swim coach, amounted to kissing in the pool locker room but no touching or intercourse.

As might be expected, the case required unusually intense investigation, Bookwalter said.

"This case was investigated by the Special Investigations Section, Crimes Against Children Unit of the Indiana State Police with the assistance of the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security," the prosecutor explained.

The lead detective in the case, Jason Callaway, is from the Pendleton Post. He was assisted by Special Agent Mike Johnson of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Det. John Pirics of the Carmel Police Department.

"His (Callaway's) only contact with Putnam County was through me personally," Bookwalter added. "With the advent of social media, this helped slow the rumors until the investigation could be completed."

It should always be remembered, Prosecutor Bookwalter stressed, "that charges are only allegations and defendants are presumed to be innocent until proven guilty in a court of law."

The only public comment offered on the case by North Putnam officials remains the terse, "My formal comment is 'No comment'" remark made by Supt. Mary Lovejoy following the Feb. 16 school board meeting.

Earlier that week, Principal Zerkel had issued a three-paragraph letter to parents, calling the circumstances "a difficult and challenging situation." He also noted that school officials are "legally bound not to disclose information" regarding such an investigation.

The letter also advised parents Rachel Pierce would be heading the NPHS instrumental music program and teaching classes in Rogers' absence, and is prepared to finish out the year if necessary.

"Thank you for your patience during this difficult situation," Principal Zerkel's letter to parents concluded.