ANDERSON — A foreign exchange student host mother pleaded guilty on Tuesday to having sex with her family’s 17-year-old host student, but will avoid jail time.

Tricia D. Mallernee, 32, pleaded guilty as charged to four counts of child seduction, a Class D felony, which carries a sentencing range of six months to three years behind bars.

She also pleaded guilty to contributing to the delinquency of a minor, a misdemeanor that carries a sentence of up to one year, for giving the teen alcohol.

In an agreement with Special Prosecutor J.A. Cummins, Mallernee will be given a three-year suspended sentence. She’ll also serve three years on probation and be required to register as a sex offender for 10 years.

“We thought, overall, it was the wise thing to do, to take the plea, rather than risk going to trial,” said Mallernee’s attorney, Jeff Lockwood of Anderson. “We don’t think she was soliciting as so much as solicited.

“It’s a shame,” he continued. “She’s no predator. It’s a very unusual circumstance.”

Cummins was appointed to handle the case because Lockwood enlisted an Indianapolis attorney to assist in Mallernee’s defense. That attorney works for the same law firm as an attorney hired by Prosecutor Thomas Broderick Jr. to defend him against charges of misconduct previously leveled by the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission, Lockwood said.

According to court documents:

Mallernee began having sex with the 17-year-old male foreign exchange student about two weeks after his arrival in early July 2008.

The sexual relationship continued through April. Mallernee and the teen had sex in her home and while on a spring vacation in Florida. On one occasion in April, Mallernee had the boy dismissed from school early and the pair had sex at Mounds State Park.

The teen told investigators he initially wanted to be in the relationship. But later he tried to end it, fearing Mallernee was becoming “emotionally attached and he did not feel the same way.”

Mallernee allegedly threatened to have the boy removed from the home if he ended the relationship, law enforcement officials said. He told investigators that he was afraid that moving to a new home would mean having to stop participating in school activities. He continued in the relationship.

Although 17 is old enough to consent to a sexual relationship, because Mallernee was the teen’s host mother, she was considered his legal custodian, making their relationship child seduction under Indiana law.

Mallernee is married, but her husband was very ill during most of her relationship with the teen. The man, who is not named in the court documents, was hospitalized several times, “making Tricia’s activities with (the teen) possible without easy detection,” the court documents state.

The Herald Bulletin doesn’t general identify those suspected of being sex crime victims.

The relationship came to the attention of Indiana Department of Children’s Services case workers, who then contacted police. The teen is no longer living in Mallernee’s home, according to law enforcement officials.

Mallernee is now living with her family in La Fontaine, in Wabash County, about 20 miles north of Marion. She could not be reached for comment.



What’s next?

Judge Fredrick Spencer is expected to sentence Tricia D. Mallernee, 32, at 9 a.m. Thursday, July 2, in Madison Circuit Court. Mallernee pleaded guilty Tuesday to four counts of child seduction.



Contact Shawn McGrath: 640-4883, shawn.mcgrath@heraldbulletin.com

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