Former teacher, coach pleads guilty

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Feb. 8—A former Rowan County Senior High School teacher and assistant varsity basketball coach is awaiting an extensive prison sentence after admitting to the sexual exploitation of a former student, according to federal court documents that were unsealed on Wednesday.

Nearly one year ago, an anonymous report led to a 23-count indictment against Andrew Zaheri, 39, of Morehead, accusing the former coach of rape and sexual abuse of female student-athlete.

Zaheri was initially charged in Rowan County's jurisdiction and a lawsuit, filed on behalf of the minor victim, was to follow — accusing the school district and administration of failing to intervene to prevent or stop the abuse.

The still-pending civil suit accused Zaheri of grooming the child as a 14-year-old before escalating to sexually abusing the girl during school hours and on school premises by the time she turned 17.

In addition to the state's accusations and civil complaint, according to recent federal court records which remained under seal until Wednesday, U.S. prosecutors filed an intent to file an information against Zaheri in January.

An information is similar to an indictment as it represents a formal accusation, however it was issued by United States prosecutors directly as opposed to a grand jury.

Per the information filed, the government sought to charge Zaheri with sexual exploitation of children as further investigation revealed photos and videos of Zaheri's sexual conduct with the minor victim.

Zaheri's documentation of the abuse violated federal laws, according to the information filed, which added Zaheri used his former student to produce child sexual abuse materials.

Zaheri pleaded guilty to that accusation on Wednesday in U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Kentucky in Covington.

The plea agreement was made accessible on Thursday. Zaheri agreed the government had evidence that could prove him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Of the accusations, Zaheri admitted to beginning the sexual relationship with the high school student while he was an employee of Rowan County Schools in the summer of 2022.

"The sexual relationship continued into the school year and included Zaheri engaging in sexual acts with the victim at the school during school hours," the plea agreement reads, verifying earlier details filed in last year's civil complaint against Zaheri and the school district.

Per the new court documents, Zaheri acknowledged that on two separate occasions he produced visual content on his cell phone of the minor engaged in sexual acts with him in September 2022.

By federal law, the punishment for Zaheri's exploitation is a term of imprisonment of a minimum of 15 years and a maximum of 30.

Federal sentencing guidelines require a calculation of sorts, which combine the offense level and Zaheri's criminal history.

Within the plea agreement, U.S. prosecutors moved to increase the offense level "because the defendant abused a position of public or private trust," and due to Zaheri "engag(ing) in a pattern of activity involving prohibited sexual contact."

For acceptance of responsibility, however, prosecutors state they will move to slightly decrease the offense level at the sentencing phase.

Ultimately, U.S. District Judge David L. Bunning will set Zaheri's federal prison time after considering the facts of the case, Zaheri's criminal history and abiding by statutes regarding sentence recommendations.

Zaheri will appear for sentencing in Ashland on May 14, where Bunning may also order Zaheri to pay restitution to the minor victim.

Upon last review, the state's case and civil litigation are still pending.

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