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Third New London school employee charged

Greg SmithMay 29, 2019

New London — Police arrested a third New London school employee on Tuesday as part of the ongoing investigation that stems from the alleged sexual assault of a minor by an employee at the middle school two years ago.

Melissa Rodriguez, 35, a former teacher at Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School who has a federal criminal record, was charged Tuesday with failure to report abuse, neglect or injury to a child or imminent risk of serious harm to a child by a mandated reporter.

Details of her alleged crime and what she failed to report were not immediately available. The arrest warrant affidavit in the case is sealed.

Rodriguez and fellow teacher Laquana Sheppard were both placed on paid administrative leave by Superintendent Cynthia Ritchie on May 3, “pending the outcome of an internal investigation.” They were told not to report to work until further notice, not to discuss the investigation with anyone and not to access district computer systems or programs while on leave.

Rodriguez worked in the same school where former school behavioral specialist Corriche Gaskin, 35, allegedly sexually assaulted a middle school student. He also is charged recording and sharing his homemade, sexually explicit cellphone videos. At least some of the crimes are alleged to have occurred in 2017.

Gaskin has pleaded not guilty to a host of felony criminal charges that range from second-degree sexual assault, child porn possession, voyeurism with malice, dissemination of voyeuristic material and multiple counts of risk of injury to a minor. His case is pending.

Rodriguez, when she was known as Melissa Valentin, was arrested and convicted with a host of other people for her role in a large mortgage fraud scheme orchestrated by former New London mortgage broker Jose Guzman.

Between 2004 and 2006, federal authorities said Valentin purchased approximately five houses in the New London area by providing false information on mortgage loan applications. Some of the properties were resold and others ended in foreclosure. She was paid about 622,993 in restitution. She had pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud.

Details of when Rodriguez was hired by the school district and whether the district knew of her prior conviction is part of a pending Freedom of Information request from The Day. Gaskin also had a federal criminal record, having been convicted of possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine. He had revealed his conviction before he was hired. 

Board of Education member Jason Catala, chairman of the policy committee, is advocating a move to vet all current school employees “to ensure they’ve been hired according to New London public schools hiring policy.”

“These sad events didn’t happen overnight. They happened right in front of central office and some district administrators. These individuals must be held accountable. This ‘hire my friend attitude’ must stop. It’s not safe for our kids,” Catala said in an email.

Catala said that Ritchie has ordered an immediate hiring audit.

Along with Gaskin and Rodriguez, police have arrested middle school paraprofessional and high school track coach Jevon Elmore, 25, as part of an expanded investigation focused on employees in the school district. Elmore is charged with second-degree sexual assault.

Several other teachers and administrators remain suspended as New London police continue their investigation. The school district also has referred some allegations against employees to state Department of Children and Families for further investigation.

Mayor Michael Passero and Human Services Director Jeanne Milstein are meeting with state Child Advocate Sarah Egan on Friday to request an independent outside review of the school district.

g.smith@theday.com

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