BLOOMFIELD, NJ — Former Bloomfield High School running coach and teacher Leo Donaldson accepted a plea deal in Newark Superior Court on Tuesday, March 20, for seven years in prison. He was indicted on 36 counts stemming from sexual contact with minors.
Donaldson, 32, must serve 85 percent of his sentence, or five years, 10 months and one day. He will receive credit for jail time following his Oct. 27, 2016, arrest. He was released March 13, 2017, after being incarcerated for 134 days.
Donaldson’s co-defendant, his husband, Bradley, had been indicted for endangering the welfare of a child. He will be allowed to enter pretrial intervention. If he is not charged for any criminal activity for one year, the endangerment charge will be dropped.
The plea arrangement took place in the courtroom of Judge Richard Sules. Donaldson was represented by Wolodymyr Tyshchenko. Bradley was represented by Frank Arleo. At the hearing, Joshua Forsman replaced Arleo who had to leave early.
Assistant Essex County Prosecutor Celeste Montesino agreed to drop 32 charges against Donaldson who pleaded guilty to first degree aggravated sexual assault, reduced to a second degree offense; second degree sexual assault; and second degree endangering the welfare of a child. A fourth charge to which Donaldson pleaded guilty was second degree official misconduct. For this he must serve at least five of seven years. The charge of official misconduct was because Donaldson was a teacher and the track coach of several minors involved. All sentencing is to run concurrently.
Donaldson will also be required to submit his DNA to a registry and have parole supervision for life. He can hold no public employment, will be registered as a sex offender, and cannot have contact with his victims.
Except for Donaldson and Bradley, Sules, the attorneys, several sheriff deputies and the clerk, the courtroom was empty. Additional chairs had been placed at the end of each bench. This was for a jury-trial selection later in the day. Scheduled for 9 a.m., the Donaldson proceeding didn’t begin until 12:35 p.m.
Donaldson was dressed in a dark suit with a purple shirt and tie. Bradley was dressed in a black jacket and navy blue pants, white shirt and blue tie.
Donaldson was placed under oath and Sules questioned him. He was asked his age, his level of education and if he were being treated for any psychological condition. Donaldson did not immediately answer this question, but looked down the table at which he and the attorneys stood. He finally turned to Sules and said he had been treated while in jail. Sules asked if he took any medication. Donaldson said yes, but not since his release from jail because he could not afford it. He was waiting to resume his psychiatric treatments.
Tyshchenko told Sules that part of the plea deal was that the prosecutor agreed that no other victims could pursue charges against Donaldson.
“Some alleged victims that didn’t make the indictment,” he said.
Montesino told Sules she agreed to this.
Sules said to Donaldson that he could not take back his guilty plea, but could still be sentenced to 50 years in prison because his plea arrangement was with the state and not the court.
“The court is not bound by your agreement,” Sules said. “But then, you could take back your plea.”
Throughout his questioning, Donaldson spoke softly. Bradley had been instructed to remain in the audience area.
Sules told Donaldson that he must undergo psychiatric tests at the Avenel Adult Diagnostic and Treatment Center to determine if he were a repeat offender. The judge said that he could possibly be confined to the treatment center.
Donaldson was then required to publicly admit his guilt for specific criminal acts. The initials of the victims were used for identification. Donaldson was each time required to acknowledge he knew who the initials represented.
Answering questions from Tyshchenko, he admitted to two instances of sexual contact with minors and at another time, to sexual behavior with minors in a BHS classroom. He said yes.
Montesino interjected and asked if what he did was for his own gratification. Donaldson said yes.
He also admitted to swimming naked, with three minors, in Sussex County.
To this, Montesino asked Donaldson if he were in a supervisory position with the minors. He said yes.
“By swimming naked with them,” Montesino said, “you agree your conduct caused them to be abused and neglected?”
Donaldson did not respond, but spoke privately to Tyshchenko who turned to Montesino.
“He’s not denying conduct,” Tyshchenko said. “But abuse? He can agree that by swimming naked could cause harm.”
Montesino agreed to this.
Tyshchenko told Sules that he wanted the court to know that Donaldson never used physical any force or coercion on his victims.
“He admits the conduct,” he said. “It’s not a case of physical force.”
But both Sules and Montesino said physical force was not required for the charges against Donaldson.
Sules schedules the sentencing for June 1. Tyshchenko told the judge he was going to submit a request to be allowed another witness in Donaldson’s defense. Sules gave him until April 6 and gave Montesino until April 20 for her objections.