MAYS LANDING — A high school diving coach accused of using Snapchat to share images of child pornography was offered five years in prison in exchange for pleading guilty, attorneys said Tuesday.

Mark Balesteri Jr., 30, of Egg Harbor Township, was indicted last month and pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges of possession and distribution of child pornography.

Balesteri served as the diving coach at Egg Harbor Township High School and was also employed as a teacher’s aide in the district, earning an annual salary of $21,702, state pension records show.

During his appearance before Judge Benjamin Podolnick in Atlantic County Superior Court, Balesteri’s attorney, Tina Islam, told the court the state had offered a plea agreement that included five years in prison, and she requested four weeks to review the offer. The state and the judge agreed.

Attorneys could not comment after the hearing as they are barred from speaking about the case due to a gag order.

Balesteri will be back in court July 3.

Following a months-long investigation, Balesteri was arrested Feb. 14 and charged with distribution of child-abuse and sexual exploitation images, possession of child-abuse and sexual exploitation images with intent to distribute and possession of child-abuse and sexual exploitation images. He was suspended from his employment.

An affidavit from the case states Balesteri told police the images included “girls in swimsuits as well as naked images,” and that he admitted he was a “pervert.”

He was released by Podolnick with conditions after a detention hearing Feb. 25.

Another local educator facing child pornography charges, former Pleasantville High School Principal Edward James Bonek, was also scheduled for a conference before Podolnick on Tuesday, but that was rescheduled to June 18.

Bonek remains in Cape May County jail, where he has been lodged since his detention hearing in August. Bonek’s attorney, John Zarych, had filed a motion to reopen the detention hearing in March, but Podolnick denied that motion last month.

Other educators awaiting trial include Pleasantville High School teacher Jessica Gaeckle, 30, of Galloway Township, and Bridgeton teacher Isaias Garza, 50, of Vineland.

Gaeckle is charged with official misconduct and one count of hindering apprehension related to an alleged sexual relationship with an 18-year-old student. She is scheduled to appear in Atlantic County Superior Court on Aug. 5 for a case review.

Garza was indicted in February on charges related to the sexual assault of two former students and is scheduled to appear for a status conference July 12 in Cumberland County Superior Court.

Contact: 609-272-7251 CLowe@pressofac.com Twitter @clairelowe

Staff Writer

I began covering South Jersey in 2008 after graduating from Rowan University with a degree in journalism. I joined The Press in 2015. In 2013, I was awarded a NJPA award for feature writing as a reporter for The Current of Hamilton Township.

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