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Mother Gets Prison Over Cocaine : Sentenced to 3 Years; Drug Found in Girl's Backpack

June 17, 1989|JAMES QUINN | Times Staff Writer

A Topanga Canyon woman whose 7-year-old daughter found cocaine in her backpack and shared it with classmates was sentenced Friday to three years in prison for possessing the drug for sale.

Maria Christina Torres, 40, who wept quietly throughout the session in Van Nuys Superior Court, was convicted May 19 despite her claim that a friend had hidden the cocaine in the school bag.

Torres, a Colombian citizen who has been free on $100,000 bail since the incident, was taken into custody immediately after she was sentenced by Judge Alan B. Haber. She could have been imprisoned for five years.

Police officers were called to Canoga Park Lutheran School on June 13, 1988, after Torres' daughter and eight other students sampled the powdery substance, which several described in court as tasting "yucky" or "icky."

None were injured, although one second-grade girl said it made her tongue numb.

After the children passed around the plastic bag filled with cocaine, a sixth-grader grabbed it and turned it in to the principal's office.

School officials and students testified that an agitated Torres came to the school looking for the cocaine shortly afterward.

School officials said that after giving Torres the plastic bag they became suspicious and called police.

Police experts said they found enough of the substance scattered about the school building and play yard to identify it as cocaine.

The nine students were taken to a hospital for examinations, and Torres was arrested when she returned to pick up her daughter at the end of the day.

Investigators said they confiscated three telephone pagers, a portable cellular telephone, additional plastic bags and about $1,000 in cash from Torres.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Tracy J. Watson said the equipment was "paraphernalia of the kind commonly used by drug dealers."

During a six-day trial, Torres testified she went to the school to retrieve the cocaine after a longtime friend had told her that he hid it in her daughter's backpack.

The friend, who was identified in court but not called to testify, had borrowed her car the previous day, Torres said.

Harmless Goods

Torres told jurors that the items confiscated by police and characterized by Watson as drug paraphernalia were actually harmless goods.

The plastic bags were used to measure out in advance her vitamin doses and two of the three pagers and the portable telephone were inoperable, she said.

Torres "realized she was going to go to prison," her attorney, Richard A. Walton, said after the sentencing. "She knew that because she was already on probation, she wasn't going to get probation again."

According to court records, Torres was given two years probation in August, 1987, on a misdemeanor theft conviction.

Torres was placed on five years federal probation in 1985 after she was convicted of making a false currency declaration.

Federal officials said she was apprehended at Los Angeles International Airport while attempting to leave the country with $147,000 in cash in her luggage and pockets.

Torres and her estranged husband are battling over custody of their daughter, Angelina.

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