OZARK, Mo. – A former teacher who has admitted to sexually exploiting a minor has been sentenced to 12 years in prison but will first spend up to three months in a treatment program and could instead be put on probation after that program.

Thomas Louis Schembri III, a former teacher for Branson’s Cedar Ridge Intermediate School, pleaded guilty to the charge in July under a plea agreement with Christian County prosecutors.

According to court documents, Schembri III took an explicit photo of a 9-year-old girl during a tutoring session in 2021. The girl told her father and he reported the incident to authorities.

Schembri denied taking the photograph to investigators but did admit that he had photos of a female’s crotch area on his phone and that the female was of age. He said the photos were from a month ago but did not consent to a search of his phone. His phone was seized as evidence.

Investigators communicated with the father of the girl about what the girl was wearing that day. The description matched the clothes in the photos on the phone.

Circuit Judge Laura Johnson deferred sentencing earlier this year in order to seek a sentencing assessment report to determine suitability for punishment alternatives to imprisonment.