PITTSBURGH (KDKA/AP) – A suspended Plum High School forensics teacher accused of intimidating a student who accused another teacher of having sex with her was found not guilty Monday.
Allegheny County prosecutors argued the in-class remarks by 41-year-old Drew Zoldak “broke” the victim and were meant to discourage her cooperation against the other teacher, Joseph Ruggieri.
Zoldak acknowledged Friday making a remark about being interviewed by “two men in suits” but denied gesturing toward the girl or trying to intimidate her. Some students have defended the teacher, while others seconded her account.
But the attorney for the Plum High School teacher said his remarks may have hurt the girl’s feelings, but weren’t designed to keep her from testifying against Ruggieri – and so they weren’t a crime.
Defense attorney Al Lindsay praised students who came to testify for Zoldak.
“The students that came in and said it didn’t happen were wonderful. They’re great kids,” he said.
Deputy District Attorney Brian Catanzarite had argued Zoldak referred to the detectives as men in suits – even though he was questioned by two female detectives – to make the experience sound daunting and to discourage Ruggieri’s accuser.
Zoldak could hardly contain his emotions after the verdict was read.
“I’m glad that this is finally over, I’m looking forward to moving on with my family,” he said.
The suspended teacher went on to praise his wife.
“Without her I would have nothing, I have a very strong wife and a very, very strong family,” he said.
Zoldak said he hopes to continue his teaching career.
“I’ve been doing it for twenty years, I love what I do, I’m very passionate about what I do. I don’t know what I’m going to do next if I cant go back to teaching,” he said.
It wasn’t immediately clear what affect the acquittal may have on Zoldak’s job status.
The other teacher accused by that girl is serving two to five years in prison after pleading guilty to having sex with her. A second Plum teacher is in prison for sex with another student, while a third awaits trial.
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