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Friday, Apr. 18, 2014

Three NPHS child seduction suspects bond out of jail

Thursday, March 1, 2012

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Three North Putnam High School employees, Nicholas A. Vester (above), Brandon D. Largent (bottom) and Craig E. Rogers (middle) appeared at the Putnam County Courthouse Wednesday to plead not guilty to felony charges of child seduction. The three men are accused of engaging in inappropriate activity with a 16-year-old male student.
Three North Putnam High School staff members, charged with child seduction in connection with the same 16-year-old male student, made their initial appearance in court Wednesday and have all since bonded out of the Putnam County Jail.

Appearing before Putnam Circuit Court Judge Matthew Headley, the three men all had not-guilty pleas entered for them and were ordered to have no contact with the victim in person or via any social media or third-party emissary.

Judge Headley set bond at $10,000 each (10 percent allowed) for:

-- Nicholas A. Vester, 24, Lafayette, a substitute Spanish teacher at North Putnam for approximately 12 weeks last semester.

-- Craig E. Rogers, 24, Indianapolis, the North Putnam band director who has been on unpaid administrative leave since Jan. 18 because of the external investigation that resulted in the three arrests Tuesday.

-- Brandon D. Largent, 20, Crawfordsville, who had been a lifeguard and volunteer swim instructor at North Putnam since November before being removed Jan. 18.

Although all three defendants face the same charge of child seduction, court documents indicate the three have had differing levels of involvement with the teenager.

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 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.

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Under Indiana law, there is apparently little difference, Putnam County Prosecutor Tim Bookwalter told reporters after the brief court hearing Wednesday.

"The age of consent in Indiana is 16," Bookwalter said, "unless you are a teacher or in an advisory position at a school, which makes it child seduction."

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

Court documents in the case also report a connection between at least two of the defendants, Vester and Rogers. State Police Det. Jason Callaway reported 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)."

The encounters between the school personnel and the teen occurred both on and off school property, the investigation showed, covering a period from November 2011 through January 2012.

Bookwalter explained that the case came to light in mid-January when the boy and his family contacted authorities.

"The victim came forward, questions were raised, the investigation was started," Bookwalter simplified.

The investigation began with the Department of Homeland Security, the prosecutor revealed, "because they do a lot of things with Internet issues, pictures being taken and pornography on the Internet."

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"They involved the State Police, which has a special victims unit for children, which also helped us because being a small county, rumors were rampant in our community after the school board had taken some action involving the band teacher," Bookwalter added.

It also helped the investigation, he said, to have an out-of-town lead detective from Pendleton and another from Evansville.

"They interviewed everybody out of county, including the victim," Bookwalter explained. "So really, before the story hit I don't think anybody had an idea it was coming, which helped finish the investigation.

"This is not like Marion County," he said for the obvious benefit of the Indianapolis TV reporters huddled around him. "(Here) everybody knows everybody, and texting and facebook rumors can run rampant."

The possibility exists that more charges could be filed in the case, pending further investigation.

"We're waiting on the Department of Homeland Security to deliver to us all the texts and all the pictures," Bookwalter said. "And once we receive that, we can decide if there will be other charges."

Meanwhile, in a statement released Wednesday afternoon, North Putnam School Corporation officials stressed that they have been cooperating with law enforcement officials as the case progresses.

"At the direction of the authorities, so as not to jeopardize the investigation and at the request of the student's family," the statement said, "the school corporation has been bound to remain silent."

North Putnam officials emphasized that upon learning of the allegations, they "took immediate action to protect students by suspending those involved and initiating the process for termination."

The school corporation also said it would notify the Indiana Department of Education of the allegations "for purposes of the consideration of revoking the teachers' licensing."

"Our goal is to ensure the safety and security of all students," the statement concluded. "We abhor the nature of these allegations, and we are particularly distressed by the pain and suffering this has caused the victim, his family and our school community."

All three men are set to return to court for a preliminary hearing at 10 a.m. April 19 to determine how the case will proceed. All three were also ordered to turn over their passports as a condition of bond.

None of the three defendants has any prior criminal record, according to what they told Judge Headley on Wednesday.

Rogers is being represented by attorney Jim Voyles, the Indianapolis lawyer who defended Mike Tyson in his 1992 rape trial. Voyles was in federal court Wednesday, so local attorney Robert Perry handled Rogers' initial court appearance.

Neither Vester nor Largent had an attorney present Wednesday. Vester, however, did say he has retained Randy Vonderheide, a Lafayette lawyer.

Largent was unsure about legal counsel and Judge Headley allowed him extra time to consider his options before being assigned court-appointed counsel.