A former Lauderhill Middle School teacher accused of having a sexual relationship with a student entered a no contest plea to aggravated child abuse charges Monday, accepting a punishment of three years in prison instead of a lifetime as a registered sex offender.
Kristen Nicole Sullivan, 27, was immediately granted a furlough and will have to surrender to begin her prison term by 8:30 a.m. on Jan. 3. If she fails to appear, Broward Circuit Judge Lisa Porter said, the three years will be increased to 90.
Police arrested Sullivan in April 2010 after a Lauderhill Middle School student claimed he had a sexual relationship with her lasting almost a year. Police said the relationship was revealed when the boy's girlfriend found incriminating text messages on his cell phone — a gift from Sullivan for the boy's 14th birthday.
As part of the plea bargain, Sullivan's jail term will be followed by five years' probation, during which time she will not be allowed to take a job teaching children.
Prosecutors offered her another deal that would have kept Sullivan out of prison but convicted her of sexual battery on a minor by a person with custodial authority – a conviction that would have labeled Sullivan a sex offender. Sullivan turned that offer down. Her lawyer, Bradford Cohen, said the prison term was preferable in the long run.
"This way, she doesn't have to register as a sex offender, which would follow you the rest of your life," he said. Acknowledging that his client was the adult who "should have known better," Cohen said one reason prosecutors agreed to the plea was that the student, who was 13 when the relationship began, was the pursuer.
"It was a serious lapse in judgment" on her part, Cohen said.
Prosecutor Nicole Alvarez did not comment on the deal.
Sullivan was formally sentenced to 30 years in prison on each of two aggravated child abuse counts and 15 years on each of two aggravated battery counts, a total of 90 years behind bars. Porter said that sentence will be applied if Sullivan fails to surrender on Jan. 3.
Alvarez did not lay out the case against Sullivan, instead citing a probable cause complaint filed shortly after her arrest.
According to that report, Sullivan met the student at Lauderhill Middle School in the beginning of 2009. In May of that year, the relationship turned sexual.
In April 2010, the student's new girlfriend told police that she intercepted text messages from Sullivan to the student. "I'm tired of being the one chasing you," one read. "Why are you ignoring me?" read another.
Police monitored a phone call between the student and Sullivan on April 19, 2010, confirming the sexual nature of the relationship, according to the report. She was arrested the next day.
Sullivan, of Plantation, was a high school student when she started working for the Broward School District in 2000 at Silver Trail Middle School in Pembroke Pines. She worked as a bookkeeper at the school and at Glades Middle School in 2003. In August 2006, she went to Lauderhill Middle as a full-time microcomputer technical specialist. She was a teacher from October 2007 to November 2009, when she took a clerical position at the district's Educational Technology Services department.
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