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Charlotte After-School Operator Pleads Guilty To Indecent Liberties With Children

Eastover Elementary School

The former operator of a Charlotte after-school program was sentenced to five to eight years in prison Monday after pleading guilty to three counts of felony indecent liberties with a child.

Ricardo Mata, who ran the private PlaySpanish program for more than 20 years, has been in jail since March of 2018, when he was charged with taking indecent liberties with a child who was enrolled in his program at Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s Eastover Elementary School.

WSOC-TV reported that the plea also involved a victim at Covenant Presbyterian Church, and said the children were 7 and 8 years old when the incidents happened.

Ricardo Mata
Credit Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Office

Meghan McDonald, a spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office, says Mata first pleaded not guilty but changed his plea as prosecutors prepared for trial. She said prosecutors consulted with the victims’ families and accepted the plea in order to prevent the young victims from reliving the trauma at trial.

Mata entered an Alford plea, which means he maintains his innocence but acknowledges that the evidence would likely lead to a guilty verdict, according to McDonald.

PlaySpanish was not part of the school system, but CMS provided space for the for-profit program since the late 1990s, according to a lawsuit filed by one of the victims’ families. That suit accuses CMS of failing to keep Mata out of schools and away from children after the district’s police force investigated a 2013 complaint involving a Matthews Elementary student.

The suit says that during that investigation the CMS officer also learned that Charlotte-Mecklenburg police had investigated a report that Mata fondled a 6-year-old girl at the private British American School in 2009.

The suit says the Eastover Elementary victim was assaulted during lock-down drills at the after-school program. It says Mata would turn off the lights and tell children to hide and be quiet, then used the opportunity to remove the girl's clothes and assault her.

Ann Doss Helms has covered education in the Charlotte area for over 20 years, first at The Charlotte Observer and then at WFAE. Reach her at ahelms@wfae.org or 704-926-3859.