She graduated magna cum laude from Temple University with a degree in education, earned her master’s degree from Cabrini University with a 4.0 grade point average, and worked for six years as a special education teacher in the Philadelphia School District.
But on Tuesday, Stephanie Amato left a Philadelphia courtroom with an 11½-to-23-month prison sentence and the label of sex offender after pleading guilty to a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old student.
Amato, 33, who sat holding rosary beads before the hearing, tearfully apologized to her family and to the Ethan Allen Elementary student for hurting them, adding, “I truly feel that I do not believe this would have occurred if it were not for drugs.”
Defense attorney Trevan Borum told Common Pleas Court Judge Jeffrey P. Minehart that Amato began “recreational use” of prescription opioid narcotics in 2010 and that by the time of her arrest in June 2014 she was snorting heroin every day.
Borum said Amato underwent inpatient drug treatment in 2013 and 2014 and relapsed both times.
Borum asked for probation for Amato, telling Minehart that the criminal offense was her first, that she was sober, and that she was the single mother of a 7-month-old son.
The psychiatrist whom he hired to evaluate Amato said “she is a low risk for reoffending, and her risk will likely only decrease over time,” Borum said.
Assistant District Attorney Kelly Harrell argued for a state prison sentence of five to 10 years, saying Amato picked the boy, who was in her special education class, because “she thought she would never get caught doing this.”
Harrell described the boy’s poor economic circumstances and said he lived with his father, stepmother, and siblings in Frankford.
Harrell said Amato had vaginal and oral sex with the boy over a period of months, including at her parents’ home in the Northeast, in her car, and in a park.
Even when she was under investigation by school officials, Harrell said, Amato kept in contact with the boy and warned him, “You know I can get arrested if you tell.”
The boy eventually did tell, and Harrell said DNA testing of Amato’s parents’ sofa and her car seats proved the sexual relationship.
Harrell said the conduct harmed the boy, who went on to commit a felony and is now in juvenile custody. The boy did not testify at the sentencing. The Inquirer and Daily News do not name the victims of sexual assault without their consent.
Minehart said he could not understand how someone with Amato’s family and education could have done such a thing.
“I know drugs were involved, and that affects everything, but I understand that it’s not controlling of this behavior,” Minehart added.
The judge said he was giving Amato only a county prison sentence because it was her first offense and because he had received 33 letters of support from Amato’s family and friends.
In addition to the prison time, Minehart put Amato on 10 years of reporting probation and ordered her to have no contact with juveniles. He allowed her to surrender to prison July 10.
As a convicted sex offender, Amato will have to register her address and living circumstances for the rest of her life and report her status in person four times a year, Harrell said.