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Alleged chat ends in revoked bond for Plum teacher Ruggieri

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Lillian DeDomenic | For Trib Total Media
Suspended Plum High School teacher Joseph Ruggieri (right), turned himself in Tuesday, March 17, for arraignment on a witness intimidation charge. Police said Ruggieri contacted a student who accused him of having sex with her and urged her not to testify.

A Plum High School English teacher went to jail Tuesday, accused of contacting a student with whom he allegedly had sex and urging her not to testify against him.

Joe Ruggieri, 40, of Sardis Road surrendered on a charge of witness intimidation at the office of Plum District Judge Linda Zucco, who revoked his $25,000 bond and sent him to the Allegheny County Jail.

Charged last month with institutional sexual assault, Ruggieri was not permitted to contact the victim, a Plum student, as a condition of bond.

Police accused him of chatting with the girl last week via Facetime. Ruggieri told the judge he did not know he couldn’t contact the student because he was not told who accused him of sexual assault.

“My client was not given a directive as to whom it was,” attorney Daniel J. Konieczka said.

“He knew full well who he had to stay away from, and he made contact with her,” Plum police Detective Mark Focareta countered.

Zucco agreed, saying Ruggieri’s remarks were insulting. “It is stunning,” she said.

Konieczka, standing in for attorney R. Anthony DeLuca, said Ruggieri is entitled to a hearing to modify his bond.

Ruggieri is vice president of Plum Borough Education Association. He is suspended without pay from his $101,500 teaching position.

Police accused him of contacting the student “several times” through the video telephone chat service and asking her about statements she made to law enforcement, according to a criminal complaint.

The complaint said Ruggieri told the student last week, “My livelihood will be ruined,” “My kid’s life will be ruined,” and “I miss you.”

Police charged Ruggieri with institutional sexual assault on Feb. 17. The student accused him of having sex with her in his home. Police did not provide her age but said she was a minor. Ruggieri’s arrest was made less than a week after police arrested Plum High School teacher Jason Cooper on charges of having sex with a student.

Karen Zapf is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at [email protected].

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