By Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler, Times Staff Writer
Tampa police say math teacher and coach Jaymee Wallace had sexual encounters over 19 months with a member of the girls basketball team.
TAMPA - Investigators say it began with a note, passed in a math class at Wharton High School.
I think you're attractive, it said. Do you feel the same?
Sent in December 2002, the note initiated 19 months of sexual encounters between teacher Jaymee Wallace and one of her female students, according to police. The student was 15, a rising star on the girls basketball team that Wallace coached.
By the time the meetings broke off in August 2004, the two had engaged in sexual activities more than 50 times, the girl, now 17, told Tampa police.
They would meet in Wallace's car, in her Tampa Palms apartment, and near a running trail at the University of South Florida, the girl said.
"The student was convinced the two of them were in love," said Tampa police spokeswoman Laura McElroy.
Wallace, 28, was charged this week with one count of lewd and lascivious battery, a second-degree felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
State law makes it illegal for anyone 24 or older to engage in sexual activity with a person under 18. Wallace posted $7,500 bail within hours of her arrest and left the county jail Monday afternoon. Her attorney, Joe Bodiford of Tampa, said his client maintains her innocence.
"We're going to have tons of people come forward to give glowing reviews about her and her coaching," he said.
The arrest is the second in as many years of a female Hillsborough County teacher accused of having sex with a teenage student.
Former Greco Middle School teacher Debra Lafave, arrested last year amid allegations she had an affair with a student, is scheduled to stand trial in December on two counts of lewd and lascivious battery.
Like Lafave, Wallace was newly married at the time of the alleged encounters.
"This is a case of someone who has taken advantage of her position to victimize a teenage student," McElroy said of Wallace. "It's total exploitation of the student's trust."
The student told detectives the note from Wallace came tucked inside an envelope, clipped to a graded paper Wallace handed her in math class.
She wrote Wallace back and expressed interest. More such exchanges followed. On Jan. 21, 2003, the student wrote that she "wanted to do more than just write notes," according to detectives.
After a basketball game, Wallace drove the student to a running trail on USF's campus.
They arm-wrestled, the student told detectives. Then they kissed.
Wallace drove her home. It was 9 p.m.
By the spring of 2003, they were having oral sex in the coach's apartment and in parking lots around the city, the student told detectives.
The student hid encounters from her parents for months, even as campus rumors and allegations triggered questions from Wharton officials in the spring.
"The victim denied it. The victim's mother said this didn't happen," said school district spokesman Stephen Hegarty. "Everybody who would know about this said it wasn't happening."
Kansas State University professor Bob Shoop, an expert witness in cases involving sexual abuse between teachers and students, said students usually don't report the incidents.
"The student feels this is a real relationship," Shoop said, speaking generally. "She becomes a co-conspirator because she doesn't want the relationship to end."
Police started investigating Wallace in June, after the student told her mother what was happening, McElroy said. The girl told detectives she did not want Wallace prosecuted but that she felt guilty about the lies.
Detectives started interviewing fellow students, including the player's sister.
The sister told detective Melanee Holder that she found a "love note" from Wallace in the back of her sister's pants pocket in 2003. She said she once saw the two lying naked on Wallace's bed.
In August, the student's mother gave police notes she found, addressed to her daughter from fellow students.
"Is you the first girl she messed with?" one girl wrote. "You my dawg and I love you NO MATTER WHAT, but I think coach should be punished!"
The student said Wallace ended the relationship in August 2004 because she wanted to have children and felt guilty about betraying her husband, Craig Wallace, a math teacher and girls soccer coach at Wharton.
She married Wallace, a native of Jamaica, in a ceremony conducted June 7, 2003, by the Rev. Susan Baron at St. Andrew's United Methodist Church in Brandon, according to county records.
She joked with some players that Craig Wallace, 28, was suspicious of her relationship with team members, former student and player Nikki Kelley told police.
McElroy said detectives have found no evidence of other victims.
Wallace graduated from the University of Tampa in May 1999 and has been at Wharton since the 1999-2000 school year, when she started as a substitute teacher.
She became varsity basketball coach in spring 2003, after having coached the junior varsity team.
Under Wallace, Wharton had one of the county's top programs. Last season, the Wildcats won their district, finished 21-8 and reached the second round of the Class 5A playoffs, where they were defeated by Haines City, 62-57. The previous season, Wharton went 23-8 with a district title and state playoff appearance.
Wallace isn't coaching or teaching this year. Hegarty said she was transferred to the school district's Office of Professional Standards, where she has no contact with students.
"We take these allegations very seriously, and when these things come up, we want to protect the children," Hegarty said.
Times staff writers Keith Niebuhr, Scott Purks and Jeffrey Solochek and researcher Cathy Wos contributed to this report. Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler can be reached at email@example.com or 813 226-3373.