KEENE - A former Rindge police officer and ConVal High School employee was sentenced in Cheshire County Superior Court Tuesday to one year in jail on a misdemeanor sexual assault charge.
John Vargas-Cifrino, 35, of Harrisville, will also have to register as a sex offender for the next 10 years.
In court Tuesday, Vargas-Cifrino's defense attorney said his client has already completed sex offender evaluation and has started treatment.
Vargas-Cifrino pleaded guilty to two counts of misdemeanor sexual assault of a 15-year-old girl in Keene last May. He had initially been charged with felonious attempted aggravated sexual assault. Vargas-Cifrino was given a one-year sentence for the first misdemeanor and a 12-month suspended sentence with three years of probation for the second misdemeanor.
He pleaded not guilty after his arrest in August, but he negotiated a plea with prosecutors in which the felony charge was dropped and he would plead guilty to the misdemeanor charges. Cheshire County Attorney Keith Clouatre said he was willing to move ahead with the felony charge, but he said the victim's family wanted to accept the misdemeanor pleas as opposed to going to trial.
"He was also a family friend so they are torn that way. They didn't want to hang him that way, but they wanted to punish him for what he did do," Clouatre said.
A felony conviction would have landed him on the sex offender list for life as opposed to 10 years on the misdemeanor charges, Clouatre said.
Part of that is a sexual offender evaluation and treatment, Clouatre said.
Vargas-Cifrino is to serve his sentence in the Cheshire County House of Corrections in Keene, at which Clouatre said it would be likely the ex-cop would have to be separated from the general inmate population.
"I imagine he's going to have to be segregated. . Everybody there is going to know he was a cop. He is going to need more protection than the average inmate," Clouatre said.
The misdemeanor convictions are grounds to de-certify Vargas-Cifrino as a police officer, Clouatre said.
"I can't imagine given this type of crime he would ever be re-certified," he said.
While nothing specific bans Vargas-Cifrino from working at a school in the future, Clouatre said, "I would find it hard to believe someone would hire him."
Vargas-Cifrino had been friends with the girl's family for the past 13 years. He had spent about a year sleeping on the couch at the family's Keene home, and the incident took place in May. However, the girl reported to police that before the incident he had been coming into her room in the middle of the night and would lie next to her on her bed. In May, he reportedly entered her room and touched her breasts and genitals while she pretended to be asleep.
Keene police were made aware of the alleged crime after a Catholic priest contacted interim Rindge Police Chief Frank Morrill Aug. 4. Court documents say Vargas-Cifrino initially contacted the priest through Facebook.
While Keene police were conducting a criminal investigation, Chief Morrill confronted Vargas-Cifrino in the process of an internal Rindge police administrative investigation, and Vargas-Cifrino immediately resigned from his police job.
On Aug. 9, Keene police arrested and charged Vargas-Cifrino with one count of attempted felonious sexual assault. He was placed on unpaid leave by the ConVal School District, and he resigned from that job shortly after being placed on leave.
Vargas-Cifrino had been a police officer for 15 years and a part-time officer in Rindge for the past 11 years. He was a paraprofessional at ConVal High School in Peterborough, working as an aide helping students with behavioral difficulties.
In November, his mother, Rosemary Cifrino, 65, of Chesham Road, Harrisville, was charged with felony witness tampering for allegedly telling the victim's mother to lie to protect her son.
According to her arrest affidavit, Rosemary Cifrino went to the victim's home to collect personal items belonging to her son on Aug. 7 and while there told the victim's mother to "lie and not tell anyone" about the sexual assault. Cifrino told the mother "talking to the police will ruin her son's career and he will end up killing himself over it," Detective Jennifer M. Ramey wrote in an affidavit.
She also told the victim's mother that she had warned her son "how something would happen, just like it did the last time he was in a similar situation," court records indicated.
Clouatre said the mother's case had been bound over to superior court but was never presented to a grand jury. After 90 days the charges went away.
"We're not interested in pursuing that," Clouatre said.
Prosecutors could have argued her statements were witness tampering, but it could also be argued she was a mother emotionally upset over her son's arrest and did not intend to commit witness tampering, he said.