4 plead not guilty to rape cover-up

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STEUBENVILLE, Ohio -- The city's top school official and three others entered standard not guilty pleas Friday to charges stemming from the August 2012 rape of a teenage girl by football players and a second alleged assault on another teenage girl four months earlier.

Suspended superintendent Mike McVey, who faces felony counts of obstructing justice and evidence tampering, said nothing after his brief arraignment in a Jefferson County courtroom.

His lawyer, Charles Bean, said his client will win in the end and return to work as head of the 2,400-student district.

Mr. McVey was suspended along with two other district employees, elementary school principal Lynnett Gorman and special education teacher and strength coach Seth Fluharty, following the indictments last month.

All remain free on bond.

"We are confident that we are going to prevail in these cases and prove they're unfounded," Mr. Bean said. "This was an investigation that went nine months and this is all they have?"

He also said he will oppose a gag order proposed by the attorney general's office.

The AG has been "holding news conferences and putting out all kinds of press releases," he said, yet now wants to muzzle the defendants' lawyers.

The judge, Patricia Cosgrove, said she'll give the attorneys until Dec. 30 to file a response.

Mr. Fluharty and Ms. Gorman waived appearances in court and entered written not guilty pleas.

Former volunteer football coach Matt Belardine, whose house was the scene of the drinking party that led to the August 2012 rape, appeared and also pleaded not guilty.

Mr. Belardine, Mr. Fluharty and Mr. McVey will next appear in court Jan. 17 for a pretrial conference. Ms. Gorman is scheduled for a one-day trial Jan. 7.

A fifth defendant, William Rhinaman, retired director of technology for the school, had been arraigned following his indictment in October and was to have a pretrial conference Friday, but it was postponed because his lawyer was sick.

All of the charges resulted from a special grand jury probe of school officials' responses to two unrelated incidents in April 2012 and August 2012.

Ms. Gorman is charged with failure to report possible child abuse in the April case, in which a 14-year-old girl said three high school baseball players raped her during a drunken party at the home of the baseball coach.

She didn't report it to authorities until after the investigation into the August rape had begun, and no one was charged with rape.

At least some of the charges against Mr. McVey also pertain to the April event, but the details have not been made public.

In regard to the August case, Mr. Fluharty is charged with failure to report child abuse. Mr. Belardine is charged with allowing underage drinking, obstructing official business and related offenses.

Mr. Rhinaman is charged with evidence tampering, obstructing justice, obstructing official business and perjury.

Torsten Ove: tove@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1510.


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