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Ex-counselor pleads guilty

Hargrave will be sentenced later this year

March 26, 2011
The Daily Advertiser

Faced with what even her attorney called insurmountable evidence, a former school counselor admitted in court Friday that she had sex with a 14-year-old girl and pled guilty to a charge that carries a minimum sentence of 10 years in jail.

Allison Hargrave's guilty plea to the crime of attempting to entice a minor to engage in sexual activity was accepted in federal court after a 25-minute hearing early Friday afternoon. She will not be sentenced until later this year.

Hargrave, 40, walked into court dressed in a bright pink Iberia Parish Jail jumpsuit and shackled around the waist, wrists and ankles. She looked significantly healthier than her last appearance in court this summer, when she appeared gaunt and emotional.

On Friday, however, Hargrave's curly, light brown locks bounced past her shoulders and she answered federal judge Richard Haik's questions clearly and calmly.

She told Haik that she had taken two antidepressants that day, something her attorney Kevin Stockstill said was prescribed after she resigned from Ascension Episcopal School and checked into Pine Grove Behavioral Health and Addiction Services in Hattiesburg, Miss. She eventually was arrested at that facility on June 2 after a May indictment.

Hargrave had originally pled not guilty, and the switch to a guilty plea — a decision made this week — was a surprise to many.

Stockstill hoped the decision would persuade Haik to issue a shorter sentence.

Hargrave will face a maximum penalty of life in prison and a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years, a $250,000 fine, or both.

Plus, the evidence — salacious e-mails and text messages — mounted against Hargrave was insurmountable, Stockstill admitted.

"Documentary evidence can be very powerful evidence," Stockstill said after the hearing, "even more than witness testimony."

The victim's parents sat on the right side of the courtroom, surrounded by a dozen friends and family Friday. The victim's mother began weeping even before Hagrave entered the courtroom, and was sobbing loudly once the hearing ended and the room was nearly empty.

Hargrave, the mother of two preteen girls, was a psychiatrist working as a counselor and yoga instructor when she began counseling the then-Ascension Episcopal School eighth-grade student in spring 2009. The victim had been caught with cigarettes and was required to undergo counseling to be admitted to ninth grade, according to a civil lawsuit filed by the family.

Hargrave maintained contact with the victim during summer 2009 and continued counseling sessions in fall 2009 when the victim began high school.

She began text messaging and emailing the student that fall, and "graphically discussed engaging in sexual activities with the minor," Hargrave admitted.

"The defendant also discussed meeting with the minor female student to engage in sexual activities. In the fall of 2009, the defendant ... met with the minor female student and engaged in sexual activities with her," Haik read from court documents Friday. Hargrave confirmed the statements were true.

The sexual activity continued through January 2010, Hargrave admitted. The emailing and texting continued until February.

The correspondence was filed as evidence under seal this summer, but some were read during a detention hearing in July.

In one that Assistant U.S. Attorney John Luke Walker read in court last summer, the victim wrote that she was very insecure.

Hargrave wrote back, "Turn your brain off. It's getting in the way. You have the best teacher."

The victim constantly worried in the emails that she "would be bad in bed," Walker said in July, but Hargrave consistently wrote that it would be OK.

"Do you realize no one else cares for you as much as I do," Hargrave wrote in an email.

The emails seemed to show that the victim resisted Hargrave's advances, which Walker has said showed Hargrave was manipulative and "groomed" the girl for their relationship.

Hargrave resigned from AES in March 2010 amid rumors of the affair.

The victim had been removed from school and underwent inpatient psychiatric treatment, according to a civil suit filed by the family.

The suit is still pending in district court.

A presentence report will be drafted, which could take up to 90 days to complete. Afterward, federal judge Richard Haik will call the case to sentencing. The minimum sentence is 10 years in prison and maximum is life.