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LA teacher sentenced over lewd acts

LOS ANGELES — A once-respected former teacher accused of committing lewd acts on children in what authorities said he called ‘‘tasting games’’ pleaded no contest on Friday.

Mark Berndt entered the legal equivalent of guilty pleas to 23 counts of committing lewd acts on children. Under a plea deal, the former teacher at Miramonte Elementary School in Los Angeles was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

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Superior Court Judge George Lomeli said it was the equivalent of a life sentence for the 62-year-old defendant.

Prosecutors said Berndt fed students his semen on cookies and by spoon, sometimes blindfolding and photographing them.

Before the sentencing, sobbing mothers denounced Berndt, saying he had ruined the lives of their daughters.

The women were not named in court. All but one spoke in Spanish. Some said they could not understand how the school district did not know about the incidents.

Defense attorney Manny Medrano said Berndt is remorseful, and that he had chosen to avoid causing pain to the children with a trial.

‘‘The last thing Mr. Berndt wanted was to see 23 child witnesses have to walk through this gate to the witness stand,” Medrano said.

Superintendent John Deasey said school officials are relieved the case was over.

‘‘We will continue to implement reforms and push for statewide changes to protect students,” Deasey said.

The allegations came to light when a drugstore photo technician noticed odd photos of blindfolded third-graders and reported them to authorities.

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