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Plum teacher, held for trial, vows to fight witness intimidation charge

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Lillian DeDomenic | For the Tribune-Review
Plum teacher Drew Zoldak enters court on Wednesday, May 27, 2015, with his wife, Paige, and his attorney, Al Lindsay, for a preliminary hearing in District Judge Linda Zucco's office.
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Drew Zoldak, 40, a teacher at Plum High School, was charged with two misdemeanor counts of intimidation of a witness or victim on Wednesday, April 22, 2015.

When a Plum High School teacher outed her as a sex assault victim before a class full of students, the senior testified, “I wanted to go away and hide.”

At times during the hearing Wednesday for Drew Zoldak, a forensic science teacher charged with witness intimidation, the girl wept while on the witness stand. “I didn’t believe they knew. I didn’t want to believe they knew,” the girl testified about her classmates.

The Tribune-Review does not identify victims of sex crimes.

Zoldak, 40, will fight the charges, his attorney, Alexander Lindsay, said. District Judge Linda Zucco ordered Zoldak to stand trial.

The student is the alleged victim in an institutional sexual assault case against Plum English teacher Joseph Ruggieri.

On April 20, Zoldak allegedly walked into his third-period forensics class and apologized for missing class the previous Friday.

“He said two men in suits with the district attorney were asking him hundreds of questions at his house,” the girl testified.

When a student asked Zoldak why he was questioned, “He head-motioned to Mr. Cooper’s room and pointed directly at me and said, ‘Because of her,’ ” the girl said.

Jason Cooper, a science teacher, was charged with institutional sexual assault six days before Ruggieri for allegedly having sex with a different female student.

Cooper’s classroom was located immediately behind Zoldak’s, the girl testified.

A grand jury is investigating as many as eight possible victims between Ruggieri and Cooper, and whether school administrators turned a blind eye to the abuse.

“I thought nobody knew I was the victim in (the Ruggieri) case. It made me feel like I’m doing the wrong thing and I shouldn’t cooperate with (prosecutors) and the detectives,” the girl said of her reaction to Zoldak’s alleged statements.

A criminal complaint indicates that when two female officers questioned Zoldak on April 17, he intimated the victim was partly to blame: “It takes two to tango,” the investigators said he told them.

Lindsay — the attorney hired by convicted sex offender and former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky for his appeal — argued the girl’s testimony did not meet the requirements of the state’s witness intimidation statute.

“It’s not enough to intimidate someone or make someone feel bad,” Lindsay said. “You have to intimidate them to do something.”

Lindsay repeatedly questioned the girl’s recollection of an incident she said came later the same day. She testified Zoldak called her to the front of the classroom and asked if she would be OK with next week’s topic: sexual assault.

She said he told her she didn’t have to sit in class during the lessons.

“I said I would rather not hide but be as normal as possible,” she testified.

She said the exchange was loud enough that students in the front row of desks could have heard it. The girl became frustrated by Lindsay’s calling into question her recollections.

She began to cry.

“No one else has to deal with what I have to deal with,” she said. “No one else cares. It makes me upset.”

Lindsay argued that neither instance qualifies as intimidation.

“If you can prosecute someone for this, then — for heaven’s sake — you can prosecute someone for anything,” he said. “You have no case.”

Zucco disagreed.

Zoldak’s formal arraignment is scheduled for July 15.

Outside the courtroom, Lindsay said his client will fight the charges “to the end.”

“I don’t think (Zoldak) pointed her out the way she said,” Lindsay said. “He did not point her out. He did not name her in the Ruggieri case.”

Zoldak did not speak during the hearing or outside the courtroom. His wife, Paige, accompanied him.

Lindsay said Zoldak, suspended without pay since April, has not been subpoenaed by the grand jury.

Megan Guza and Karen Zapf are Trib Total Media staff writers. Reach Guza at 412-380-8519 or [email protected] and Zapf at 412-871-2367 or [email protected].

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