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UPDATE: Former Rindge officer gets year in jail for sex assault 

  • Former Rindge police officer and ConVal paraprofessional John Vargas-Cifrino was sentenced to a year in the house of corrections for two counts of misdemeanor sexual assault against a minor during his sentencing hearing at the Cheshire Superior Court Tuesday.<br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

    Former Rindge police officer and ConVal paraprofessional John Vargas-Cifrino was sentenced to a year in the house of corrections for two counts of misdemeanor sexual assault against a minor during his sentencing hearing at the Cheshire Superior Court Tuesday.
    (Staff photo by Ashley Saari) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Former Rindge police officer and ConVal paraprofessional John Vargas-Cifrino was sentenced to a year in the house of corrections for two counts of misdemeanor sexual assault against a minor during his sentencing hearing at the Cheshire Superior Court Tuesday.<br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

    Former Rindge police officer and ConVal paraprofessional John Vargas-Cifrino was sentenced to a year in the house of corrections for two counts of misdemeanor sexual assault against a minor during his sentencing hearing at the Cheshire Superior Court Tuesday.
    (Staff photo by Ashley Saari) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Former Rindge police officer and ConVal paraprofessional John Vargas-Cifrino was sentenced to a year in the house of corrections for two counts of misdemeanor sexual assault against a minor during his sentencing hearing at the Cheshire Superior Court Tuesday.<br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

    Former Rindge police officer and ConVal paraprofessional John Vargas-Cifrino was sentenced to a year in the house of corrections for two counts of misdemeanor sexual assault against a minor during his sentencing hearing at the Cheshire Superior Court Tuesday.
    (Staff photo by Ashley Saari) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Former Rindge police officer and ConVal paraprofessional John Vargas-Cifrino was sentenced to a year in the house of corrections for two counts of misdemeanor sexual assault against a minor during his sentencing hearing at the Cheshire Superior Court Tuesday.<br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • Former Rindge police officer and ConVal paraprofessional John Vargas-Cifrino was sentenced to a year in the house of corrections for two counts of misdemeanor sexual assault against a minor during his sentencing hearing at the Cheshire Superior Court Tuesday.<br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • Former Rindge police officer and ConVal paraprofessional John Vargas-Cifrino was sentenced to a year in the house of corrections for two counts of misdemeanor sexual assault against a minor during his sentencing hearing at the Cheshire Superior Court Tuesday.<br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

KEENE — Emotions ran high at the Cheshire County Superior Court on Tuesday, during the sentencing of former Rindge police officer and ConVal High School employee John Vargas-Cifrino, who pled guilty to sexually assaulting a 15-year-old girl. Though the man’s attorney was seeking a lesser sentence, an impact statement tearfully read by the victim’s mother, asked the court to impose the maximum sentence of a year in the House of Corrections.

Judge John Kissinger ultimately decided it would be irresponsible of the court to reduce the sentence of a man who had perpetrated the abuse while employed in a position of authority.

“The notion that someone involved in law enforcement would engage in this kind of behavior with someone who’s nearly 20 years younger makes your conduct even more egregious from my standpoint,” said Kissinger during Vargas-Cifrino’s sentencing.

Vargas-Cifrino, 35, of Harrisville will serve a 12-month sentence for the charge of misdemeanor sexual assault. Another 12-month sentence for a second misdemeanor sexual assault charge has been suspended for three years, pending good behavior. Vargas-Cifrino pled guilty to both charges in court Tuesday, as part of a plea deal in which the charges were reduced — from one felony count of attempted aggravated felonious sexual assault and two counts of misdemeanor sexual assault — to just two misdemeanors.

At the time of his arrest, Vargas-Cifrino had been employed for more than 10 years as a part-time officer in the Rindge Police Department.

“I believe the sentencing was appropriate, fair and warranted, given John Vargas’ former professions, both as a part-time police officer and a para-professional working with high school youths — both professions requiring extreme public trust and the utmost integrity,” said Rindge Police Chief Frank Morrill in an interview Wednesday.

At the sentencing hearing Tuesday, Deputy County Attorney Keith Clouatre said Vargas-Cifrino was living with the victim and her family at the time of the assault, residing on the couch. He was a longtime friend of the family. According to Clouatre, while living with the family, he became close with their teenage daughter, and began touching her inappropriately while watching movies in her bedroom, and entering her bedroom at night and sleeping next to her.

The two counts of misdemeanor sexual assault stemmed from one incident in May after Vargas-Cifrino entered the victim’s bedroom and touched her breasts and genitalia. The victim first pretended to be asleep, and then moved as if she was waking up before asking Vargas-Cifrino to leave, which he did, said Clouatre.

Vargas-Cifrino and his attorney did not dispute any of the facts as laid out by Clouatre, and Vargas Cifrino pled guilty to both charges.

During sentencing, the mother of the victim read a statement written by her daughter for the court: “I keep asking myself, how could this man, who was not a stranger, someone my family has known for 12-plus years, and completely trusted, how could he commit such a heinous crime in my home, a place that I should be safe? Why did he sacrifice everything he said he stood for?”

The statement pointed out that Vargas-Cifrino had abused both his position as a family friend and as a police officer. The victim confirmed that both she and her family had agreed to the reduction in charges proposed as part of the plea agreement. However, they pressed for the maximum sentence for a Class A misdemeanor: a year in the House of Corrections.

“Your honor, I only hope this court will set an example, not only for offenders, but all those who have been victimized, and prove that they will protect the innocent,” the victim’s mother read from her daughter’s statement. “My family and I do not want to crucify John, however, people should not be able to commit crimes like this and be able to get away with it either. So, for the first sexual assault charge, I would like to see the 12-months served cap not be dropped, and have him serve a year in the House of Corrections.”

Vargas-Cifrino also read a prepared statement of apology to the victim and her family during his sentencing.

“Unfortunately, I let you and your family down. Honestly, I can say that when I entered your life, I never had the intent to hurt you as such, but I did,” he said. “I won’t make excuses for my actions. I was the adult in the situation and should have been stronger than I was.”

Vargas-Cifrino’s lawyer, Adam Cook, said Vargas-Cifrino was the one who approached his police chief to admit to the assaults , and had taken responsibility for his actions since that time. He has already undergone a sexual offender evaluation, the results of which are still pending, and has begun attending a weekly counseling group for sex offenders, Cook said.

“He’s not required to do that, but he’s sworn to put this all behind him and make the changes he needs to make,” said Cook. “John’s whole life, he’s wanted a career in law enforcement. That’s gone now. He can never do that again. What he went to school for, what he’s always wanted to do, he threw away upon his actions.”

In an interview Wednesday, Chief Morrill clarified that the Rindge Police Department was first made aware of the allegations of sexual assault when a Catholic priest came forward to voice concerns. The first time Morrill discussed the issue with Vargas-Cifrino was when Vargas-Cifrino was called in and made aware that he was being investigated for the assaults, Morrill said. On Aug. 6, 2012, following the internal Rindge Police Department investigation, the matter was turned over to the Keene Police Department, which had jurisdiction over the crimes. In lieu of termination, Vargas-Cifrino resigned from police work. On Aug. 15, 2012, he also resigned from his job as a full-time paraprofessional at ConVal High School, just a few days after the school placed him on unpaid leave. His duties had included assisting teachers with children who have behavioral challenges.

At the sentencing hearing Tuesday, Cook requested a shorter incarceration time or monitoring by electronic bracelet, but Judge John Kissinger went with the state’s recommendation of a full year.

“Placed in a situation of trust, you abused that trust and betrayed a family, and most importantly, a young innocent 15-year-old child, who, by your actions has suffered tremendously,” he said. “The pain and the loss that has been dealt by you to the victim is not something that can be minimized in any degree. And quite frankly, a sentence of anything less than the maximum recommended by the state would not be appropriate.”

In addition to a his incarceration, Vargas-Cifrino will also have to attend the House of Corrections’ sex offender program and any other court-mandated counseling or treatment, undergo a sex offender evaluation, and refrain from contact with the victim or her immediate family. He will be on probation for two years after completing his jail time.

Clouatre said Wednesday that Vargas-Cifrino will be required to register as a sex offender for 10 years following his release.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 235 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter at @AshleySaari.

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