NJ union president was right: No jail for student-molesting teacher
UNION CITY — An undercover video of a local teachers union president crowing about how an educator who had “sex with a student” wouldn't go to jail turned out to be more accurate than authorities may have led the public to believe.
Dennis J. Palatini, of Clifton, was sentenced in June to three years of probation after pleading guilty to criminal sexual contact. That means he won't go to jail or prison — although that's a consequence of the criminal justice system, not the teachers union influence.
Palatini was the teacher referenced in a video released earlier this year by the conservative investigative group Project Veritas.
The video was one of several that the group released that resulted in the suspension and then resignation of union leaders in this city and in Hamilton in Mercer County. The videos also prompted hearings in the Democratic-led Legislature and a package of reform bills.
In the Union City video, a Project Veritas agent pretending to be the sister of a teacher in the district tells then-union president Kathleen Valencia that her brother had pushed and injured an unruly student.
In an effort to assuage the woman, Valencia holds up a file she said contained information about a teacher who had sex with a student. She says: "You're not going to jail."
"You know what this whole file is about? It's about whether or not they get to keep their pension," Valencia says. "Is he going to jail? No. How come? Because the child’s not pressing charges. There’s no proof.”
After the video made headlines, the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office was forced to acknowledge that Palatini had been the educator referenced by Valencia.
Although Valencia had said that the student was not pressing charges against Palatini, he was in fact charged and pleaded guilty on March 26, less than two months before the video was released. His June 29 sentencing was not announced in a news release by prosecutors.
Palatino had been accused of asking a 16-year-old girl at an academy for at-risk students to send him nude photographs in 2016. The girl said Palatini drove her to a parking garage and engaged in a sexual act in front of her.
Although Palatini did not technically get away with it, as Valenica seemed to suggest, he did escape going to prison. Fourth-degree crimes normally do not result in prison sentences.
As part of his plea deal, he forfeited his public employment. This month, the State Board of Examiners, the body that regulates teaching credentials, permanently revoked Palatini’s teaching certificate in biology.
Palatini also risks having his pension reduced or revoked by the Teachers' Pension and Annuity Fund, which has the right to reduce retirement benefits for teachers who lost their jobs because of a crime related to their employment or a “crime of moral turpitude.”
Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.