Ex-School Official in Sussex County Sentenced for Online Sex Chats with a Minor

By Kibret Markos
The Record
October 15, 2010

A former top school official in Sussex County was led out of a Hackensack courtroom in handcuffs on Friday after being sentenced to six months in jail for online sex chats with a minor.

"Just the mere thought of what I was doing… makes me sick and makes me angry," Thomas Papa said in a letter read by his attorney at his sentencing in Bergen County Superior Court.

Papa, a former business administrator of the Vernon Township school district, wept and wiped tears from his face for most of the hearing. He turned toward the back of the courtroom and stared in shock at family members when Judge H. Eugene Austin gave him a jail sentence.

Defense attorney Leonard Bitterman described Papa as "one of the most decent human beings and an incredible victim himself."

Papa, 47, endured abuse as a child at the hands of a Roman Catholic priest, Bitterman said. He was also abused physically and sexually by his parents, who often beat him with wooden spoons so hard that the spoons broke, he said.

He later got married and gave birth to a child, only to see his daughter die from a rare disease at age three, Bitterman said. His second child was diagnosed with diabetes, the attorney.

His ordeals over the years have forced him to seek counseling and psychiatric medication, Bitterman said.

"Mr. Papa has suffered hurdles that very few humans had to deal with," Bitterman said. "That does not give him the right to commit the offense, but it explains a large part of it."

Assistant Bergen County Prosecutor Brian Sinclair, however, was infuriated by Papa's lengthy letter, calling it "an absolute joke."

"We are not here because spoons were broken," Sinclair said. "We are here because this man, for a protracted period of time… was communicating with what he thought was a 14-year-old child."

Sinclair said that between September 2006 and April 2008, Papa chatted online with several detectives who were posing as underage girls. He transmitted images of his private parts and engaged in graphic sex talk, Sinclair said.

Authorities said Papa was arrested in April 2008 after he went to a location in Ramsey to meet an underage girl. He was charged with attempted child endangerment, attempted luring and attempted sexual assault – charges that could have put him behind bars for up to 10 years.

He pleaded guilty in July to a reduced charge of attempted criminal sexual contact.

"There is a risk of this defendant committing another offense, and there is a need to deter," Austin said.

Papa's sentence also includes five years of probation and a requirement to register as a sex offender under Megan's Law.



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