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Police & Courts: Former Cherokee band teacher pleads guilty to lower charge

Vannatta pleads guilty to harassment, “in a manner likely to cause the other person annoyance or harm.”


Joe Vannatta pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor in connection with allegedly grooming a student while still employed as a Cherokee band teacher. 

The plea agreement filed July 1 by Vannatta’s attorney, Jacklyn Fox of Sioux City, lowers the charge from sexual exploitation, a felony, to harassment, an aggravated misdemeanor. 

A judge has not yet signed off on the plea agreement. If it is accepted, Vannatta would be placed on probation for two years and would not face any jail time. The plea agreement also asked a judge to determine whether Vannatta receives a deferred judgment. If Vannatta successfully completes his probation, adjudication of guilt would be deferred. In other words, Vannatta would be spared from the misdemeanor conviction. 

The plea agreement also states that a no-contact order between Vannatta and the alleged victim, whom he was accused of sexually exploiting, would be extended for five years.

Vanatta admitted to participating in “unwarranted personal communications with another person about his sex life,” according to a statement in the plea agreement. It also states that Vannatta’s communication with the minor student was “without legitimate purpose and in a manner likely to cause the other person annoyance or harm.”

Fox and Assistant Attorney General Ryan Baldridge did not respond to requests for comment on the agreement. 

In April, a judge signed off on trial information that charged Vannatta with sexual exploitation by a school employee. The next day, the Cherokee school board fired him after a closed session, but did not state the nature of Vannatta’s alleged actions.

According to court affidavits, Vannatta allegedly asked sexually charged questions to his student over the course of nine months. He also allegedly offered the student and the student’s boyfriend a place in his home so they could “nap.” The affidavit states that the student felt as if he was being groomed to have a sexual relationship with Vannatta, though it cited no physical contact between the two. Vannatta also allegedly offered the student extra credit for performing in an honor band, which the student allegedly attended but did not receive credit. 


Probation time for theft, misappropriation of funds

The former secretary and treasurer of the Storm Lake Volunteer Firefighters Association has been sentenced to two years probation for second-degree theft.

District Court Judge Nancy Whittenburg deferred the sentence of Jesus Rojo, 29, and mandated two years probation, according to court documents filed July 1. Judge Whittenburg also dismissed an additional charge of second-degree theft. 

Rojo allegedly stole $10,113.50 from the SLFD between January and July of last year, according to an affidavit filed Sept. 15. Rojo allegedly stole the money through a series of ATM withdrawals and debit card transactions, and “used the money for his own personal use without authorization,” also according to the affidavit. The affidavit also states that Storm Lake police used video surveillance footage in their investigation. 

Rojo was initially charged with two counts of second-degree theft, a felony, for allegedly taking property exceeding $10,000 in value, according to trial information filed by Buena Vista County Attorney Paul Allen on Oct. 23. 

In May, Rojo pleaded guilty to only one count of second-degree theft. On July 1, Whittenberg dismissed the other count and deferred judgment of one count of second-degree theft. Rojo will now face two years probation for the alleged theft and misappropriation of funds from the SLFD. 

Police and Courts


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