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Ex-high school principal gets 8 years for molesting four girls

'This man has stained my childhood forever,' one victim says of the former head of Firebaugh High School in Lynwood, who also coached the school's volleyball teams.

February 19, 2011|By Shan Li, Los Angeles Times

A former principal of Firebaugh High School in Lynwood was sentenced Friday to eight years in prison for molesting four teenage girls.

Jonas Vital Silverio, 41, who resigned shortly before his 2009 arrest, sat in a Compton courtroom as his victims and their mothers tearfully recounted the shame and trauma they endured at the hands of a man they once trusted.

Silverio pleaded no contest in June to 10 counts of lewd acts on a child 14 or 15 years old. All but one of his victims played on the school's volleyball teams, which he coached. The molestation occurred mostly on a school campus, sometimes in his office, and stretched from 1996 to 2007, according to court documents.

"This man has stained my childhood forever," one victim said. "Because of him, I do not trust anybody."

Silverio initially seemed to be genuinely interested in her future, she said, encouraging her as a high school freshman to quit soccer and join the volleyball team. Her mother pressured her to make the switch after Silverio assured her that volleyball looked more impressive on college applications.

But then he began trying to touch her inappropriately. "I went to him for help in his office once," she said. "I ended up on the floor with him lying on top trying to kiss me."

Another victim, who used to baby-sit Silverio's child and was friendly with his wife, broke down in tears as she explained that fear prevented her from going to authorities sooner.

"We were just girls then," she said. "At the time, I thought I had no choice."

Both women, now 19, urged the judge to sentence Silverio to the maximum of eight years.

Their mothers said that Silverio would call them sometimes, warning them that a young man who wanted to date their daughters was no good.

"He earned the trust of my family," one said. "He appeared to be all kind and interested in my girl's education."

Prosecutor Stephanie Chavez said Silverio had a history of sexual misconduct.

In 1995, Silverio was placed on probation for a misdemeanor conviction of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor.

In the latest investigation into his conduct, investigators identified six victims, but two of the cases had passed the statutory limitations in which to file criminal charges, said Los Angeles County Sheriff's Sgt. Peter Hahn.

"We're pretty sure there are more," Hahn said. "Victims just don't like to come forward."

According to court documents, students interviewed at several schools where Silverio was previously employed alleged that he engaged in lewd behavior, including "buttock slapping," "rubbing thighs" and persistent attempts at kissing.

Silverio's attorney, Leonard Levine, unsuccessfully asked the judge for a two- to four-year sentence for his client.

Since Silverio had never received U.S. citizenship, Levine said, he is likely to be deported to the Philippines upon release from prison.

"His family will break up.... That is punishment enough," he said.

Before sentencing, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge John Cheroske referenced a diagnostic study of Silverio, which concluded that "although he acknowledged wrongdoing, he made excuses to rationalize his behavior."

Some of Silverio's victims said eight years in prison was not enough.

"But if it saves other girls from him," one said, "that gives me some tranquility."

shan.li@latimes.com

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