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A Marana High School teacher accused of having inappropriate contact with teenage girls he met on a dating website was the victim of an online extortion scam, his attorney says.

The Marana School District governing board initially moved in November to terminate 25-year-old Andre Perrault, a Spanish teacher, who has been assigned to home since Sept. 12. But after the teacher’s attorney requested a statutory dismissal hearing, which involves legal and procedural expenses, the board rescinded the termination and instead voted Thursday to continue paying him for the rest of the school year and not renewing his contract at the end, which it decided was cheaper.

“We need to look at being good stewards of our resources and recognizing the extreme financial impact when proceeding with a statutory dismissal hearing,” said Tamara Crawley, a district spokeswoman.

Perrault’s attorney, Michael Garth Moore, argued that the district is using the cost of the hearing to avoid having to prove the accusations, some of which come from anonymous sources. Should there be a hearing, it would be proven that his client is innocent, he said.

A statement of charges prepared by district officials alleges that during most or all of his employment, Perrault has “knowingly or reckless engaged in a pattern of conduct with females who are in high school and/or under 18 years or age” that included going on dates and sexual or romantic activities. He was hired by Marana schools in September 2015.

The accusations involve three instances concerning underage girls, one of which includes a police report but no charges, telephone extortionists and an anonymous letter.

In July, Suzanne Hopkins, a Marana governing board member, and five staff members received an anonymous letter from someone claiming she was a 17-year-old high school senior when she went on a date and had sexual contact with the Spanish teacher in October 2015. The letter writer said she informed Perrault of her age, but he took her back to his house anyway.

“I feel it is my moral obligation to inform you of this, seeing as he is around high school students daily, if he still works for you,” the letter, obtained through a public records request, said. The writer also apologized for not having come forward sooner.

Perrault could not be reached for comment. But in interviews with district officials, Perrault reportedly said he believed he knew who wrote the letter; he went on a date with a woman he met on OkCupid, where he had set a filter for women who are 18 to 24 years old, and took her back to his place, but denied having sexual contact.

“Mr. Perrault never engaged in anything but appropriate activities with whom he understood to be adults,” his attorney said. Moore added that he believes the letter was written by people who have been trying to extort the teacher for months.

Two unknown people, who claimed to be the parents of someone he met on OkCupid and was texting with, accused him of “sexting” with their underage daughter and demanded money from him. The extortion eventually extended to the Marana High School office, where a woman left a suspicious voicemail on Sept. 9.

The teacher reported that voicemail to the principal, who then informed the school resource officer, according to a Marana Police Department incident report provided to the Star by Moore, Perrault’s attorney. Perrault told the officer that he was misled about the girl’s age and that he’d given the extortionists about $2,000 in total via an online payment service to make them stop and in fear of his career.

When he confided in the officer, Perrault thought an official extortion investigation was taking place, his attorney said. But the incident report indicates that the case is closed. Perrault subsequently filed a report with the FBI.

In the process of investigating the high school teacher, the Marana School District discovered a Tucson Police Department case report, which resulted from an incident another teen had reported to police on July 20, 2015. It said the teen, a high school student who was 17 at the time, met Perrault in March 2015 through the dating website and had sexual intercourse on more than one occasion.

The nature of the incident is unclear, as the report is heavily redacted to protect the girl’s identity, but it said that the girl and her mother decided not to pursue charges against Perrault.

The accusations against Perrault were reported to state education department and the Spanish teacher could be subject to a hearing on whether or not he can keep his provisional secondary teaching certificate, which, as of Friday afternoon, was still valid. A full-time substitute has taken Perrault’s place and will remain at the post for the rest of the school year.

“He will not be returning to our school district in any capacity,” Crawley, the district spokeswoman said.

Contact reporter Yoohyun Jung at 573-4243 or yjung@tucson.com. On Twitter: @yoohyun_jung

Data reporter

Data reporter on the investigative team for the Arizona Daily Star