An Anaheim man could have alerted authorities to possible wrongdoing – but instead attempted to blackmail a high school band teacher alleged to have had sex with one of her students, a prosecutor said.
Todd Spitzer, senior trial counsel in the District Attorney's Office, said when Miguel Lopez, 23, found out that then El Modena High School band teacher Carlie Attebury was allegedly having sex with former students and perhaps a current student, Lopez tried to profit.
"He could have been the perfect Good Samaritan," said Spitzer, a former county supervisor and assemblyman. "He would have been a hero, except that he crossed the line and engaged in serious criminal conduct by threatening to go to authorities unless he got money and pornography."
Lopez has pleaded not guilty to the extortion-of-property charge and is free on $20,000 bond. He is to stand trial on April 28.
Lopez found out that Attebury was allegedly having sexual affairs with members of a band group called the Vanguard Percussion Ensemble that Attebury directed and Lopez was part of, Spitzer said. The ensemble was a group of current and former high school students from the area.
Spitzer said Lopez found out about the alleged affairs in either late 2007 or early 2008 because he was a member of the ensemble and would attend social gatherings at Attebury's Orange home with other ensemble members. Lopez said he played bass drum in the ensemble, but declined further comment under the advice of his attorney.
Lopez allegedly created a phony MySpace account under a pseudonym and sent Attebury e-mails claiming knowledge of her affairs with former students and possibly a minor, Spitzer said.
Lopez at first demanded that she resign her job and turn herself in, Spitzer said.
The two exchanged e-mails over several weeks, the deputy district attorney said, and eventually Lopez set up an instant-message account under the name IamGecko15 and escalated his demands.
Lopez allegedly asked Attebury for $20,000 in cash, but that figure was negotiated down to $3,500 with the addition of Attebury providing nude and provocative photos of herself, Spitzer said. The deputy district attorney said Attebury sent Lopez about 30 sexually suggestive photos.
Spitzer said that Lopez, after getting the photos, demanded $4,500, telling Attebury that once he received the money, "you get your life back."
Attebury went to the Orange Police Department in June of 2008. Spitzer said the police tracked an Internet Protocol address to Lopez's apartment, seized his computer and allegedly found the suggestive photos the teacher sent.
When investigators questioned him, Lopez admitted to being IamGecko15, but told investigators he only intended to scare Attebury and he didn't intend to keep the money, Spitzer said.
Orange police Sgt. Dan Adams said Lopez told investigators that Attebury might have had sex with a minor. An alleged victim came forward in October and Attebury was arrested on Oct. 13 and placed on administrative leave soon after. Now 29, she faces eight felony counts.
Lopez's attorney, Deputy Public Defender Matthew Missakian, called the case ridiculous.
"Mr. Lopez exposed a child molester,'' Missakian said. "Thanks to him, this abuse has stopped and the perpetrator is being prosecuted. How he went about exposing her conduct may have demonstrated immaturity, but it was certainly not criminal."
If convicted, Lopez faces up to four years in state prison.