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Attorney tries to push Miramonte sexual-abuse case to federal level

City News Service | 7/18/2012, 5 p.m.

An attorney representing the families of nearly a dozen children who were allegedly sexually abused by a teacher at Miramonte Elementary School said today he was pushing for a federal investigation into the alleged activities at the school and throughout the LAUSD.

Attorney Brian Claypool said he sent a letter to President Barack Obama asking that the federal government conduct an investigation into the activities at Miramonte and the Los Angeles Unified School District's handling of the case and other reports of child abuse.

Clayoiik said he was subsequently contacted by the FBI's Crimes Against Children Unit, which indicated it was interested in learning more about the Miramonte situation.

Former Miramonte teacher Mark Berndt, 61, of Torrance, has been charged with 23 counts of committing a lewd act on a child between 2005 and 2011. The charges involve 23 children who were 7 to 10 years old. Prosecutors contend he took photos of children who were unknowingly being spoon-fed bodily fluids or eating semen-tainted cookies.

Claypool has already sued the LAUSD on behalf of 11 Miramonte children and their families.
Los Angeles School Police Department Chief Steven Zipperman said he was unaware of any federal investigation, but said the district was willing to cooperate.

"The health and welfare of the entire Los Angeles Unified School District family is our foremost motivation," he said. "The district has willingly and actively participated in all investigations. Although we are unaware of any federal investigation at this time, we are committed to cooperating and working with any investigative body that can help the district in its ongoing efforts to ensure we provide the safest learning and working environment for our community."

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department issued a statement noting that the FBI had consulted with local investigators looking into alleged crimes at Miramonte, but so far, the case is being handled solely by the sheriff department and the district attorney's office.

The department noted that it coordinates with the FBI task force focused on crimes against children, and "both agencies routinely assist one another with resources and expertise unique to their respective jurisdictions."

"In this case, the FBI did provide forensic assistance to sheriff's detectives leading the investigation, and stands ready to assist if requested," according to the sheriff's department.

Claypool said he believes a federal investigation is needed to broaden the scope of the probe of the district and Berndt, who taught for about 30 years at Miramonte. He also said the FBI could better assess possible victims at hundreds of other LAUSD schools.