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Former Camarillo Teacher Pleads Guilty to Molesting 11 Teens

November 09, 2002|Jenifer Ragland | Times Staff Writer

A former Camarillo High School teacher pleaded guilty Friday to sex crimes involving students, admitting he molested 11 teenage boys over two years.

Nine of those sexually assaulted by Chad Wenzlick Pridgen, 31, were students at Camarillo High when he taught upper-level science and coached boys' tennis and soccer. He met two other boys in an Internet chat room.

Sitting at the defense table with his head bowed and speaking softly, Pridgen pleaded guilty to 20 felony and misdemeanor charges and no contest to three of the 39 charges he initially faced.

Charges include allegations that Pridgen supplied teenagers with alcohol, had oral sex with minors, showed them pornography and behaved lewdly in front of them.

Authorities say the sex acts occurred at Pridgen's Camarillo home, where the teacher frequently had students over for after-school and weekend parties.

He is to be sentenced Jan. 17 in Ventura County Superior Court, and faces a maximum of 13 years in state prison. He remains free on $500,000 bail until sentencing.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Douglas Ridley, who accused Pridgen of using his authority as a teacher to take advantage of teenage boys, stressed that Friday's action was not the result of a plea bargain.

"I am very pleased with the result," Ridley said outside court. "We felt this spared the victims having to testify without compromising anything."

The father of two victims said he was relieved to see Pridgen admit to the charges after six months of delayed hearings and seemingly little progress.

He said the case has torn the family apart and will hurt long after Pridgen is sentenced. "I want my boys to be able to stand up and let him know how they feel," he said. "It's not just us -- this has hurt a lot of people."

Pridgen's Los Angeles attorney, Paul Takakjian, did not comment.

Pridgen is also named in a lawsuit that seeks millions of dollars in damages from the Oxnard Union High School District, where he was employed as a teacher and coach for six years before his arrest Feb. 5. Seven teenage boys and their families have accused school and district officials of ignoring complaints brought against Pridgen at least two years before he was charged with molesting students.

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