A Florida dance teacher was sentenced to 26 years behind bars for sexually abusing a 15-year-old student.
Lauren Debenedetta, 41, was handed down the sentence Friday after she was found guilty of four counts of lewd or lascivious molestation, one count of lewd or lascivious conduct and one count of lewd or lascivious battery at a trial in July, according to a statement from the Office of the State Attorney.
The 15-year-old victim told authorities the abuse began while she was a student at Haven Dance studio. Debenedetta asked the teenager into her office during dance class and would “kiss her on the mouth” and touch the young teen’s private parts, according to an arrest affidavit obtained by WFTX-TV.
The abuse—including kissing and other sex acts—also took place at Debenedetta’s home and the victim’s home.
The illicit relationship was discovered in 2016 by the victim’s stepfather when he came home to check on the teen after she had stayed home sick from school, local station WWSB reports.
He allegedly discovered Debenedetta hiding naked in the teen’s room next to her bed.
During the investigation, authorities discovered the dance teacher had also bought the teen a cellphone so they could communicate with one another.
Debenedetta was charged in 2016 after she was discovered in the teen’s bedroom.
The Haven Dance studio, which Debenedetta founded in North Port in 2013, shuttered its doors shortly after her arrest.
After the studio was closed, another parent at the dance studio, Michelle Lippert, told WZVN that she was surprised by the accusations against the teacher.
“I was shocked,” she said. “My daughter loves her. I would have never looked at her and thought she was capable of something like that.”
Although Debenedetta was initially charged in both Charlotte County and Sarasota, the cases against her were consolidated to Charlotte County for trial, the district attorney’s office said.
After her prison sentence, Debenedetta will have to serve five years on sex offender probation and will be required to register as sex offender.
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