Former Yale geology professor and Saybrook College Master Antonio C. Lasaga pleaded no contest Jan. 4 to charges he repeatedly molested a now 16-year-old New Haven boy for more than five years prior to his 1998 arrest.
As part of the plea bargain worked out with prosecutors, the state dropped 10 of the original 16 charges against Lasaga, leaving two counts of sexual assault, two counts of risk of injury to a minor, and two counts of employing a minor in an obscene performance — all felonies. Lasaga, 52, faces a maximum of 110 years in prison.
The plea came after a judge denied Lasaga’s request to substitute two defense lawyers from Buffalo for his local attorney, William F. Dow III. Reached at home last Monday, Lasaga said this was a key reason for the plea bargain.
“We hate each other’s guts,” Lasaga said of his relationship with Dow. “There’s no trust there, and it can’t be that way between someone and his lawyer.”
“The judge wouldn’t let me switch, and I was told that defending myself would be a nightmare,” he added. “I didn’t have many options.”
A judge also denied Lasaga’s motion to suppress state videotape and digital evidence, some of which depicts Lasaga engaging in sexual acts with the boy.
Assistant State’s Attorney David J. Strollo said the state planned to play three videotapes for the court, each involving the boy in a sexual situation.
One tape, filmed in the Kline Geology Laboratory, features Lasaga directing the boy to pose sexually.
Strollo said the state planned to call Geology and Geophysics Department chairman Danny Rye to authenticate Lasaga’s voice on the tape.
The final tape, set in the Saybrook master’s office, shows Lasaga in direct sexual contact with the boy, Strollo said.
The prosecution also planned to exhibit over 80 photographs of Lasaga fondling or molesting the child, Strollo said. He said the positive identification of Lasaga’s wedding ring on the hand of an adult male in the photos confirmed the man was indeed Lasaga.
The plea bargain spared the boy, who would have been the state’s primary witness, from having to testify.
Lasaga resigned from his position as Saybrook master Nov. 6, 1998, the same day that a team of FBI agents and police officers searched his official residence after receiving a tip from graduate students about computer files Lasaga had downloaded on his laboratory and home computers.
Yale President Richard Levin convoked a faculty tribunal in 2000 to consider revoking Lasaga’s tenure. Levin eventually fired Lasaga in April 2001; the Yale Corporation upheld Levin’s ruling after Lasaga appealed it.
Lasaga pleaded guilty to federal charges of receiving and possessing child pornography as part of a plea bargain in early 2000. Despite a constitutional challenge he mounted against one of the charges that delayed sentencing for two years, Lasaga has agreed to accept the original plea bargain.
Lasaga is scheduled to be sentenced in federal court Jan. 28 and in state court on Feb. 1, where the prosecution will have the chance to present the videotape evidence.
The plea bargain with the state stipulated that Lasaga be allowed to serve his state sentence concurrently with his 20-year federal sentence. This means that Lasaga will likely start his jail time in a federal penitentiary.
But Lasaga said he does not see incarceration as the end of his career as a scientist.
“No matter where I am, I can always contribute [to science] at the top level in the world,” he said.
The boy, whom Lasaga met through a mentoring program run by the city of New Haven, and his mother have sued Lasaga, Yale and the city Board of Education. The lawsuits have been on hold pending the resolution of the federal and state trials.
“We’re not too concerned with the result of the criminal case,” said Frederick Trotta, the family’s lawyer. “We’re just glad that chapter is done so we can finally move on to what we have to do.”