A Locust Valley music teacher pleaded guilty to sex abuse charges Monday after he admitted that he forced his young students to play games in which some of them touched him inappropriately through his clothes.
John E. Benstock, 49, of Laurel Place in Bayville, will serve no prison time under a plea agreement but will lose his teaching license, serve 6 years probation and must register as a level 1 sex offender for at least 20 years.
Benstock pleaded guilty before acting State Supreme Court Justice William Donnino to four counts of second-degree sexual abuse and 10 counts of endangering the welfare of a child. He had originally been charged in a 31-count indictment that included 17 felonies against the same 14 children. The crimes took place at the children's homes and at Locust Valley and Bayville intermediate schools between 2000 and 2011, prosecutors said.
Prosecutor Silvia Finkelstein said the parents of the 14 victims agreed that the plea deal was in their children's best interest because it ends the case. Additionally, "The parents were OK with no jail time given the nature of the contact," she said.
The close scrutiny Benstock will receive and the loss of his license keeps him away from children and "most importantly, it protects the children in this case," Finkelstein said.
Still, Laura Ahearn, executive director of Parents for Megan's Law, a nonprofit that aims to prevent child sexual abuse, said the punishment is not enough. "That sentence sends a message of tolerance, not deterrence," she said.
Benstock did not comment as he rushed from the courtroom after pleading guilty. His lawyer, Chad Seigel, said his client takes responsibility for what he did. "John wanted to move on with his life, and this was the best way to do that," Seigel said.
When the allegations first surfaced, school officials ordered Benstock to stay home with pay and to have no contact with children or parents.
"Parents trusted this defendant to teach their children music, but he abused these innocent kids for his own sick pleasure," Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice said after Benstock was indicted in July 2011.
Locust Valley school district Superintendent Anna Hunderfund issued a statement:
"The Locust Valley Central School District has been notified that John Benstock pleaded guilty to a number of charges today," Hunderfund said. "Mr. Benstock has not taught students in . . . Locust Valley since May of 2011 and is no longer employed by the district.
"As always, the health and safety of our students and staff will continue to be our first priority."