NEWS
07/27/2011 04:41 EDT | Updated 09/26/2011 05:12 EDT

Athlete who posed as student to play basketball gets 3 years in prison

LUBBOCK, Texas - A former star athlete who posed as a teenager to play high school basketball in West Texas was sentenced Wednesday to three years in prison after reaching a plea deal, a prosecutor said.

Guerdwich Montimere, 23, pleaded guilty to two counts of sexual assault and three counts of tampering with government records, said Ector County District Attorney Bobby Bland.

LUBBOCK, Texas - A former star athlete who posed as a teenager to play high school basketball in West Texas was sentenced Wednesday to three years in prison after reaching a plea deal, a prosecutor said.

Guerdwich Montimere, 23, pleaded guilty to two counts of sexual assault and three counts of tampering with government records, said Ector County District Attorney Bobby Bland.

Officials say the naturalized U.S. citizen from Haiti had graduated from high school in Florida, where he also played basketball, years before he moved to Odesa and presented himself as a ninth-grader named Jerry Joseph. Montimere was 21 and 22 when he played one season at Odesa Permian High, the same rabidly competitive school that inspired the book and movie "Friday Night Lights" about high school football. Montimere helped lead the Panthers to the 2010 state playoffs, but the team had to forfeit after his story unravelled.

Montimere was indicted last year on six felony charges, including sexual assault and tampering with government records. His trial was to begin next week in Odesa, and he had faced up to 20 years in prison if convicted on the original counts. The indictment accused him of identity theft. The sexual assault counts accused him of having sex with a 15-year-old girl.

Messages were left with a spokesman for Montimere's lawyer Wednesday as well as with his mother, Manikisse Montimere.

Suspicions were raised about Joseph after coaches from Florida at a post-season amateur basketball tournament in Arkansas said they recognized him as Montimere, a 2007 graduate of a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., high school.

Because he was living with Odesa basketball coach Danny Wright and not a parent or guardian, Montimere had to apply to the University Interscholastic League in Austin to play high school basketball. A waiver was granted and he was the star of the team.

Wright, who still calls Montimere by the name Jerry, said he was livid once he learned Joseph wasn't who he said he was.

"I was blindsided," Wright said. "I never saw it coming. I just thought he was a big kid."

Montimere was named the District 2-5A Newcomer of the Year, an honour that was stripped when his deception was exposed. The Panthers also forfeited their 16 wins, although Wright said the "team would have been good with or without Jerry."

Bland noted Montimere will have to register as a sex offender.

"To me, this is justice considering what he did here. This will protect other towns from him doing what he did here," Bland said.

He also said the victim had wanted a plea deal.

"The victim's been through a lot because of the high-profile nature of this case," he said. "And I wanted to save her from going through the ordeal" of a trial.

After the Arkansas tournament, Permian officials had begun receiving anonymous phone calls and emails saying Joseph was really Montimere. Odesa school officials looked into the situation, and Joseph was initially cleared by immigration authorities and allowed to return to the school.

But the investigation continued, and officials eventually confirmed Montimere's identity. School officials said Montimere confessed after he was confronted with the new evidence.

In spite of everything, Montimere still had the support of some Permian teachers, who had planned to be in the courtroom for his trial.

Liz Faught, a substitute at Permian who had Montimere as a student several times, said he was always well-behaved and polite. Although she said she felt a "bit duped" when the truth surfaced, she never lost her compassion for him.