An NC private school failed to protect students who were 'groomed' for sex, complaint says

Nicholas Smith, left, and Nancy Beth Errichetti
Nicholas Smith, left, and Nancy Beth Errichetti

Nicholas Smith, a former math teacher at a private school in Raleigh, is accused of grooming a ninth-grade student into a sexual relationship — first texting her, then kissing her and finally having sex with her at school, her parents' homes and during a field trip.

When school leaders heard complaints about Smith's behavior and told him to avoid inappropriate interactions with female students, he is accused of turning his attention to the girl's younger sister.

A complaint filed in Wake County Superior Court in January paints a haunting picture of sexual abuse allegations at The Montessori School of Raleigh, which serves students from pre-school through 12th grade. It also accuses the school and its headmistress of turning a blind eye to the accusations of abuse, which spanned from August 2012 to June 2016.

Smith, 36, of Raleigh has been in custody at the Wake County jail since Nov. 7, when police charged him with multiple sex crimes, including 13 counts of statutory rape and 17 counts of sexual exploitation of a minor.

This week, a Wake County grand jury handed down an indictment against Nancy Beth Errichetti, the school's headmistress. Errichetti, 55, is charged with aiding and abetting taking indecent liberties with a child and contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

Joe Lee, president of the school's board of trustees, issued a statement Wednesday following Errichetti's arrest.

“We have worked closely and cooperatively with law enforcement officials since the arrest of Nick Smith and are actively working to better understand the basis for the allegations against Nancy Errichetti. .... The safety and well-being of our students remain the foundation on which our school is built," he said.

The court complaint was filed on behalf of two female students, who are sisters, and their parents. None of them are identified in the court documents in order to protect the girls' identities.

The sisters were "victims of repeated and extensive sexual abuse over several years," Raleigh attorneys B. Joan Davis and Robert Jessup wrote in the complaint.

According to the complaint, Smith began texting the older girl when she was in the ninth grade. Later he kissed her at the "Pottery Shack," a barn on campus that is used for arts and crafts projects.

Smith "engaged in both consensual and nonconsensual sex and sex acts" with the girl in multiple places, including vehicles, the "Pottery Shack" and during a school trip to Charleston, S.C., according to the complaint.

The teacher said he loved her and that he was her "first boyfriend," the complaint says, and he "coaxed her into believing that they had a special, healthy and normal 'boyfriend-girlfriend' relationship."

Smith also had pornographic material of the girl, the complaint alleges.

The Montessori School of Raleigh "received reports of ... Smith engaging in inappropriate conduct with other young females," according to the complaint, and the school "failed to appropriately address, remedy and/or investigate."

Meanwhile, the complaint alleges, teachers and staff at the school reported that Smith was having an inappropriate relationship with the ninth-grade girl.

In August 2012, the school had Smith sign a "Corrective Action Plan," the complaint says. He "agreed that he would no longer engage in inappropriate conduct with his young female students" and also agreed to not enter girls' hotel rooms during school trips.

Smith took a special interest in the younger sister during the 2015-16 school year, when she was an eighth-grader, according to the complaint. He sexually abused her on the school's campus and grabbed her breasts during a school-related outing to a Harris Teeter store, it says.

Smith "attempted to control and maintain (the girl's) silence by fear," the complaint alleges. Smith "described in detail the interior and exterior" of her father's home and her mother's home.

When Smith tried to "friend" the girl on Snapchat, the complaint says, her parents reported it to Errichetti, the headmistress. Errichetti told them "that she did not believe their allegations."

The girl left the school because of the abuse, and Smith remained a teacher there until his arrest, the complaint says. It's unclear what led police to charge Smith.

Errichetti was still listed as the headmistress on the school's website Thursday afternoon. The Montessori School of Raleigh has a 40-acre campus in the Brier Creek community in northwest Raleigh.

The school, according to its website, "is intentionally attuned to ... creating real-life opportunities for self-directed discovery, intellectual growth, and authentic engagement with the world — both within and beyond school."

Errichetti was released from custody at the Wake County jail Wednesday afternoon when she posted a $25,000 bond, a jail spokesman reported.Smith remains in custody at the jail in lieu of a $3.25 million bail, the spokesman reported.