A former Los Banos teacher pleaded no contest Friday to more than a dozen felony sex crime charges involving three high school girls beginning more than a decade ago.
Gary A. Bettencourt, 41, was convicted of sexual relationships with students, said Travis Colby, the Merced County deputy district attorney who prosecuted the case. There was no plea bargain, Colby said.
The ex-Pacheco High drama and English teacher had sexual relations with a 15-year-old girl in 2003 and 2004, oral copulation with a girl under 18 in 2006, and repeated sex acts with a 17-year-old girl over several months in 2015, according to Merced Superior Court records.
Los Banos police Chief Gary Brizzee said he was pleased the case had been resolved.
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“Mr. Bettencourt betrayed his students, his family and this community by his actions,” Brizzee said. “I hope this allows the victims to have some degree of closure. The victims in this case have a tremendous amount of courage, which allowed our detectives to put together a solid case for prosecution.”
Colby said he didn’t want to comment on the case before the upcoming sentencing hearing, set for Sept. 23, but acknowledged he was pleased Bettencourt changed from his initial plea of not guilty.
“It’s a good thing he has decided to accept responsibility for his actions,” Colby said in a telephone interview. “I hope the sentencing hearing brings some closure for the victims, their families and the community.”
Bettencourt faces up to nine years and four months in prison, prosecutors have said.
It was unclear why Bettencourt changed his plea without a plea bargain. His attorney, Jeffrey Hammerschmidt, did not respond to telephone calls seeking comment Friday.
Mr. Bettencourt betrayed his students, his family and this community by his actions.
Gary Brizzee, chief of Los Banos Police Department
Bettencourt’s girlfriend, 22-year-old Devyn Egan, also has been charged in the case. She has pleaded not guilty to felony charges of unlawful sex with a minor and oral copulation with a minor. She also is scheduled to appear in court Sept. 23, according to court records.
Judge Mark V. Bacciarini accepted Bettencourt’s change of plea Friday morning. The judge ordered that Bettencourt be fitted with an electronic ankle monitor until his sentencing hearing next month, prosecutors confirmed.
Anthony Parreira, president of the Los Banos Unified School District board of trustees, said he hopes the district’s children never have to suffer from such crimes again.
“We never want to hear something like this happen,” Parreira said. “When you hear things like this, it just gives you that gut feeling that those are our kids.”
District officials confirmed Bettencourt was fired Feb. 4.
Dean Bubar, acting superintendent in Los Banos, said he hoped the district and its students could move forward. “We are thankful this matter is over and we can return our focus to education,” Bubar said Friday.
Bettencourt was arrested in February after a five-month investigation by the Los Banos Police Department. He was placed on administrative leave from the district in September after allegations first came to light.
That investigation led police to allegations against another former high school teacher in Los Banos who later became a city police officer.
Dusty Norris, who was fired from the Los Banos Police Department in June, is accused of having a sexual relationship with one of the same victims as in Bettencourt’s case, according to court records.
Norris has pleaded not guilty to four felony sex crime charges and a misdemeanor count of failing to report child abuse. He is scheduled to return to court Oct. 17 for a preliminary hearing.
Bettencourt and Norris also are named as defendants in a lawsuit filed by the woman who says she was victimized by both men when she was a teen. The lawsuit, filed earlier this year, claims she and Bettencourt began an inappropriate relationship in 2005 when she was a junior in high school. Years later, in October 2015, the woman claims Bettencourt called her and begged her not to say anything about their relationship, according to the lawsuit.
A case management conference in the civil case is scheduled for Nov. 21.
Rob Parsons: 209-385-2482