A former Jordan High School teacher was sentenced today to 80 years to life in prison for sexually assaulting two girls and forcing oral sex on an 18-year-old former student.
“You are a predator Mr. Santo,” said Judge Laura Laesecke, referring to 54-year-old Mark Santo, who sat in front of her wearing a blue county jail suit. “You wish that the truth was instead that you were this loved teacher.”
Santo, 54, was convicted in June of two counts of lewd acts on a child under 14, forcible sexual penetration, forcible oral copulation, assault with intent to commit forcible oral copulation and assault with intent to commit forcible sexual penetration. The allegation of multiple victims was also found to be true.
During a weeklong trial, attorneys presented dueling views of Santo, casting him as either a predatory older adult or a caring father figure.
Deputy District Attorney Elyse Rendon told jurors that from 2012 to 2018, Santo targeted students with a difficult home life, gained their trust and then used that trust to abuse them.
Meanwhile, Santo’s attorney Bryan Schroeder questioned the motives of the accusers and said they were lying.
In their testimony, Santo’s victims said they were very young when they met him. They said he treated them like they mattered, but soon began to behave inappropriately toward them.
One student who had Santo as a teacher at Lindbergh Middle School said he touched her inappropriately under the guise of comforting her during the 2012-13 school year.
Another said Santo stood over her and fondled her during a sleepover that Santo’s daughter hosted.
The third victim said Santo forced her into performing oral sex on him at his family home in 2018.
Because Santo was the most trusted adult in their lives at the time, his victims said, they felt they couldn’t speak up against him at the time.
The girls eventually came forward and Santo was arrested in 2020 after authorities gathered enough evidence to charge him with multiple crimes.
Testifying in his own defense, Santo insisted during the trial that his accusers were either lying or misconstruing his genuine emotional support as inappropriate flirtations.
He denied ever sexually assaulting anybody, and admitted only to the occasional online flirting with other teachers and adults in his life—but never any students.
He also admitted to having sex with the former student at his home but said he believed it was consensual. Soon after, however, word got out at Jordan High School about what happened and students began treating him differently, Santo said during his testimony.
Soon, he began receiving threats on social media, prompting him to come forward to the administration about the encounter. He and the school district then negotiated an agreement that let him resign quietly.
During sentencing on Tuesday, Santo chose to leave the courtroom before his victims got up to speak about the impact his crimes had on them.
“I’ve already heard these lies,” Santo told Laesecke before being escorted out of the courtroom.
Without him present, his victims recounted how they continue to have trouble trusting people around them, including their family members, as a result of Santo’s actions.
They recalled how Santo always appeared genuine in his approach in helping them manage ongoing issues in their lives, but then quickly took advantage and manipulated the narrative.
“He made his whole family believe an 11-year-old girl was a whore instead of a victim,” one victim said.
Another victim said when she lost her grandma at a young age, Santo was the only person in her life she felt could help her through the grieving process.
She said she felt the “universe was doing me a favor” when she met Santo while attending classes at Lindbergh Middle School.
However, she soon learned that “everything came at a cost,” she said.
“Turns out every time he was there for me, he was there for himself,” she added.
But despite his crimes, she still couldn’t help but feel bad seeing Santo in a prison jumpsuit.
“A part of me still loves him, a part of me still wants to talk to him, and I feel disgusted by that,” she said, adding that she feels like she’s “supposed to be there for him the way he was there for me.”
“I’m just really sad, and scared,” she said. “I feel trapped… I just really want peace.”
Following the victims’ statements, Santo was brought back out to the courtroom to learn how long he would be sentenced for his crimes.
“I think quite frankly, the fact that you weren’t here to listen to these young ladies was cowardly,” Laesecke told Santo.
She said when she first heard the evidence of the case, she thought 24 years to life in prison might be too much for Santo’s crimes.
But upon seeing a lack of remorse and denial, she began to think maybe 24 years to life wasn’t enough time.
“Apparently your family knew and the therapy didn’t work,” Laesecke said. “You were allowed to resign and my understanding is you decided to teach again.
“You are a danger to the community.”
Santo has been jailed without bail since his conviction in June.