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NY: Indian woman found guilty of having sex with students

April 20, 2007 10:43 IST
New York Montessori school principal, 40-year-old Lina Sinha was offered a plea bargain six months ago in a case charging her with having sex with two male students in their early teens in the schools owned by her parents but she declined the offer.

"She says she is absolutely innocent and wants to be vindicated in a trial," her high profile lawyer Gerald Shargel had told rediff.com. But on Thursday, Sinha, who had been found guilty in March of having sex with one of the students who is now a New York police officer, was sentenced from four years and eight months to 17 years in prison. And that means she is eligible for parole after serving the minimum phase of her sentence.

Sinha, who has a degree in education from Columbia University and who has taught for over 16 years, has been free on a $3.5 million bond posted by her mother Hannah, who founded the three schools that are reportedly worth $35 million, and Anil Sinha, the founder of the Foods of India store in Manhattan.

The much-publicised trial heard testimonies filled with sexual misadventures. One of the boys, who is now a police officer, told the court how she had seduced him, and promised to marry him. The man, 24, was 13 then and she was nearing 30. He also told the court that she had told him she too was a virgin.

Sinha, who has remained unmarried, had, sex with the boy when he was 15 said the prosecutors. Her lawyer Gerald Shargel, whose clients have included mafia boss John Gotti, had argued in the court that the boy was indeed 17, the age of consent in New York, when the two had consensual sex. Besides, the boy had admitted he enjoyed sex with Sinha. The lawyer had stoutly denied, when Sinha was arrested over a year ago, that she ever had sex with him.

But at the trial the picture had changed. Sinha had fallen in love with the boy and when he left her for another woman a few years ago, the court was told, she had gone berserk and had made calls to the police pretending to be the aunt of a young girl who had been raped by the police officer. Because the man was a minor when the seduction took place, his name is not revealed.

Sinha had also been convicted of bribing another young man, who is serving a drug related sentence, to prevent him from cooperating with prosecutors, but the jury deadlocked on whether she had sex with him after the defense lawyer poked many holes in the young man's testimony. The boy had claimed she had seduced him when he was just about 12, around the same time she had sex with the now police officer. But Shargel accused the man of lying in order to get favors from the government.

He repeated the argument on Thursday that the first boy had admitted enjoying sex with Sinha. Shargel made the argument after the prosecutor Florence Chapin, called Sinha a woman of many means, and referred to her Ivy League education and recalled how she had misused the trust of the young man. Chaplin wanted the judge to give Sinha the maximum -- 18 years. 

Justice Carol Berkman of the State Supreme Court who apparently agreed with the prosecution's description of Sinha, said that Sinha's privileged background did make "all the more culpable." She could have made her choices or asked for professional help, Berkman said.

"She's intelligent, educated, well-raised, hardworking and beautiful, and she's a predator who lived a lie," Berkman said. "She abused the position of trust she had with (the victim). She took a great deal, I think, from (the victim)."
Arthur J Pais in New York