Leggett is a small place. If it were any smaller it wouldn't have its own school system, and everyone wouldn't know everyone else. But the tiny crossroads community on Highway 101 in Northern Mendocino County is not only big enough to have its own schools, everyone does know everyone else, and it's big enough to have its own sex scandal, a sex scandal involving one adult and several girls, young girls, very young girls.
Back in February, a basketball team of 13-year-old boys discovered a female classmate's cell phone. The phone had been left in the locker room of the high school gym.
There is no more merciless creature in the world than a 13-year-old boy unless it's a 12-year-old boy. The boys played back the messages on their classmate's phone. They had to be delighted at what they found. And then they had to be surprised by what they found, and then they were shocked enough by what they found to tell their parents about it.
The messages were from Jeremiah "Miah" Sotelo, 25, the assistant coach of Leggett's junior high school girl's basketball team. They'd been sent to a 13-year-old girl.
The messages weren't about basketball.
Sotelo had written to the 13-year-old girl, "You look sexy hot without makeup on," and "I love it when you talk dirty to me." There were other endearments of a comparably low literary content.
About the same time in February — basketball season — the girl's mother discovered similarly disturbing messages from Sotelo on her daughter's phone.
"I love you," Sotelo wrote. "I'm sorry if I hurt you because I knew you were mad at me." Another note from the coach to the girl referred to the girl's "nice tight ass." On at least two occasions the girl and her coach also talked on the telephone between two and five in the morning.
Mom went to the cops while Leggett's school boss, Gordon Piffero, superintendent-principal, relieved Sotelo of his coaching responsibilities.
The rest of Leggett took sides, a large part of the community behind the Sotelos, who are long time residents of the area, another large part of the community behind the parents of the girls Sotelo had focused his dubious attentions on.
Sotelo has an adult girl friend, and he has a mother and a father, all of whom live at one address near Leggett. Sotelo's mother teaches at Leggett High School. Mrs. Sotelo is so unhappy at the allegations about her son that parents are complaining that she is taking it out on the young girls her son has expressed his unwholesome interest in. Mrs. Sotelo has loudly denounced the allegations as "bullshit" and the girls and their parents as "liars."
A half-dozen parents went to the school board last week to complain about Mrs. Sotelo's on-campus behavior. The Leggett school board is, as they say, "proceeding with caution" as they investigate all of it, from Sotelo's untoward, and perhaps criminal, behavior as coach to his mother's on-campus outbursts.
Investigations into the charges by the Mendocino County Sheriff's Department have revealed several other young girls with whom Sotelo has been at least verbally intimate. Worse, it is assumed that Sotelo slept with two girls, one of whom was said to be drunk at the time. If these girls confirm with the police that Sotelo was intimate with them Sotelo is looking at state prison time. The girls, however, have so far refused to confirm the nature of their relationships with Sotelo. Their parents suspect Sotelo has threatened them with violence if they testify against him.
Parents of the affected girls also complain that their daughters have become depressed and estranged from them. Two girls have left Leggett for other schools, and one is seeing a therapist.
None of the girls Sotelo has bombarded with sexually explicit endearments seem eager to testify against him. Several, however, have been subpoenaed to testify in proceedings brought by the parents aimed at getting a court order prohibiting Sotelo from contacting or otherwise engaging their children.
Two men whose daughters play on the basketball team coached by Sotelo have confronted Sotelo. One daughter had received a text message from Sotelo that referred to her as a "Little Hottie." In another telephone communiqué Sotelo told the girl, "I love it when you talk dirty to me."
Sotelo told the irate fathers that the messages had been "taken out of context." One wonders what possible context involving a 25-year-old man and a 13-year-old girl might be textually appropriate.
The coach was emphatically told that, at a minimum, his coaching days were over.
Sotelo is said to possess an Early Childhood Education credential, but no record of that credential exists at the Mendocino County Office of Education's credential's desk. He has, however, functioned as a substitute teacher in area schools.
Tom Mason, a Ukiah attorney, has been retained by the young man to contest the restraining order being sought against him.
Contacted at his Leggett home, Sotelo said last Wednesday, "They're kinda slandering me a little bit, but you'll have to talk to my lawyer about it."