A Saugus couple will serve jail time for being home during a drinking party in 2013 that was attended by dozens of minors including a teenaged girl who became drunk and had to be hospitalized, prosecutors said.
John and Josephine Penza, 52 and 55 respectively, were at their home Aug. 18, 2013, when their children — one was a recent high school graduate and the other was almost 20 — invited friends over for a party, according to Carrie Kimball Monahan, a spokeswoman for Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett.
When police responded to a noise complaint at the Palmer Avenue home that night, they found about 70 underage partygoers, including a 16-year-old girl who was drunk in an upstairs bathroom and had to be taken to a hospital. Prosecutors said Josephine Penza instructed the girl to tell police she had food poisoning.
Prosecutors said the evidence introduced at trial included photographs of a table set up for a drinking game and numerous empty alcohol containers.
John Penza is a teacher at Everett High School; Josephine Penza teaches at a Medford elementary school.
Attorney Francis T. O’Brien, Jr., who represented the couple, issued a statement that said they “have been respected public school teachers for decades.”
“In addition to their exemplary performance as educators, they have been tireless advocates for the less fortunate and disadvantaged,” he added. “It should be clearly understood that the Penza’s were not accused, nor convicted, of actually providing alcohol to minors.”
O’Brien said his clients were not drinking and spent most of their time inside the house during the party.”
“They clearly should have been spending more time out in their yard, keeping a closer eye on the arrival of kids, who were responding to social media ‘invitations,’” O’Brien said.
He said the 16-year-old girl identified by prosecutors “testified under a promise by the District Attorney’s Office that she would not be prosecuted for her own criminal acts.”
Saugus police Chief Domenic DiMella said in a statement that the case should serve as a reminder to parents that they could face charges under the state’s Social Host Law if their underage children are caught hosting a party where alcohol is served.
“Do not be tempted to allow your son or daughter to have friends over to drink, especially during the holidays or end of the year celebrations,” he said.
A Peabody District Court jury convicted the Penzas on Dec. 7. They were each sentenced to nine months in the House of Correction. They will serve 30 days and the balance will be suspended for two years.
During those two years, they must remain drug- and alcohol-free, and perform 50 hours of community service.
“Parents can no longer turn a blind eye when it comes to underage drinking,” Blodgett said in a statement. “The sentence imposed underscores the seriousness of the offense, and I hope will send a message to other parents who think letting young people drink in their home is no big deal.”
O’Brien’s statement said “two good people made a mistake” on the day in question.
“And as a result, the husband was immediately sent to jail and the wife , on crutches from recent multiple surgeries, was granted a brief medical reprieve before beginning her jail sentence,” he said.