ST. JOSEPH | A former St. Joseph Teacher of the Year could be sent to prison for ignoring a court order to stay away from a former student who is in jail.
Jan Kauffman, who won the 1994 Teacher of the Year honor when she was Jan Reeder, admitted in Buchanan County Court on Friday that she had violated her probation — for the second time — by contacting Tyson Wilson, who is serving time for drug and assault convictions.
"I followed my heart, which is what I've always done, and that was my downfall," Kauffman said in court.
Buchanan County Judge Dan Kellogg will decide Kauffman's sentence on Jan. 9, after he reviews recordings of phone conversations between Kauffman and Wilson.
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The teacher's downfall left even prosecutors shaking their heads.
"I have to tell you, I feel sorry for this lady," Prosecuting Attorney Dwight Scroggins said during closing arguments. "It's pathetic. This is a bright, capable woman who has done so much stuff with her life.
In 2005, Kauffman pleaded guilty to trying to smuggle marijuana to Wilson in a Cameron. As part of her probation she agreed not to contact Wilson. After violating probation that year, she spent 75 days in the county jail and promised not to contact Wilson.
Kauffman's therapist has said the former teacher is "addicted" to Wilson, and on Friday, Kauffman admitted that she contacted him again in the spring.
Scroggins said he learned in September during a prison drug investigation that the relationship had begun again.
Department of Corrections investigator Jason Miller said Wilson was speaking in code by phone to a man and a woman to smuggle drugs to him. A search of Wilson's cell produced letters and pictures from Kauffman and Miller concluded that Kauffman was participating in the drug plot.
It wasn't clear in court if Kauffman was the woman involved. Kauffman took the stand to deny the accusation and no one has been charged in the case.
But she seemed to express a desire to end her relationship with Wilson.
"I take full responsibility for what I've done," Kauffman said. "I can't answer why my judgment was so bad."
Wilson wrote two letters to the St. Joseph News-Press and wrote separate letters to Kellogg.
In the letters to the newspaper, he didn't mention the latest investigation but said good people make mistakes.
"Matters of the heart, not marijuana, is why she nor I can give up on each other — despite judicial edicts leveled against us," Wilson wrote. "People look at the conviction and automatically discredit the possibility of a genuine relationship."
He said the prison relationship began in 2003, when he wrote Kauffman asking for a copy of a poem he wrote in high school, which she had selected for a school publication.
"I believe she wrote back as a professional courtesy," Wilson wrote. "A friendship sprouted from our shared love of words and literature."
Kauffman's attorney, Hugh Kranitz, said in court that he "completely disavows" Wilson's letters. When Kauffman found out about his letters, Kranitz said, "for the first time in this whole ordeal, there was a look that came over her face, 'What does he think he's doing?'"