Lafave avoids trip to prison

Her violation of probation was not severe, a judge says.

By COLLEEN JENKINS, Times Staff Writer
Published January 11, 2008

TAMPA - Teacher-turned-sex offender Debra Lafave avoided prison again after a judge ruled Thursday that she violated the terms of her house arrest but not in a willful or substantial way.

Department of Corrections probation officials arrested Lafave on Dec. 4, accusing her of having intimate conversations with a female teenager at the Sun City Center diner where they worked.

Lafave, who now goes by her maiden name Debra Beasley, said the chats were innocent.

Hillsborough Circuit Judge J. Rogers Padgett ordered Lafave, 27, to continue serving community control without additional penalties rather than sentencing her to 15 years in prison as her probation officer recommended.

"Please don't come back," Padgett said.

Common sense said Lafave shouldn't have been back in court at all, defense attorney John Fitzgibbons said.

After the former Greco Middle School teacher pleaded guilty to having sex with a 14-year-old student in 2004, she was sentenced to three years of house arrest and seven years of probation.

For two years, she worked as a waitress at Danny Boys Restaurant. It's a restaurant where there are "not a lot of secrets," Fitzgibbons said.

Michael Cotignola, Lafave's probation officer, approved the site and supervised a male sex offender who also worked there.

Cotignola knew Lafave worked with teenagers because she said so during her first court-ordered polygraph test in November 2006.

It was only after a second polygraph test in November, when Lafave both reiterated that a 17-year-old co-worker talked about her boyfriend and sex life and said they hugged and slapped each other's rear ends at work, that the probation officer told her to quit her job.

Fitzgibbons suggested that probation officers didn't want Lafave to be eligible for probation after two years of success on house arrest.

"That has absolutely nothing to do with it," Cotignola said.