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Saripkin takes plea deal, will do 17 years

Sardis businessman Michael Saripkin will spend the next 17 years in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections. It is the first major jail sentence Saripkin has received in the more than 30 years he has been accused, tried, and convicted of molesting children in multiple cities using several different aliases.

He was sentenced by Circuit Judge Gerald Chatham in the Batesville Courthouse about 11 a.m., and immediately taken back to the Panola County Jail where he will await transfer to a MDOC processing center before beginning his sentence.

Today’s hearing was a revocation hearing where District Attorney John Champion was expected to ask the court to rescind the 14 years of probation that Saripkin, 61,  had remaining from a 2013 sentence in which he was found guilty on 10 counts of fondling and touching two teenage brothers for sexual gratification.

That case started in 2010 when Panola County Sheriff’s investigators found evidence  of child molestation with the cooperation of the brothers, both of whom lived with Saripkin at his house on Lee Street in Sardis. Saripkin pled not guilty and had a jury trial, one that left prosecutors frustrated with the relatively light sentence.

The charge of fondling that Saripkin pled guilty to today is punishable by a sentence of 2 to 20 years and fine of up to $10,000.

Standing quietly with his attorney, Saripkin answered Judge Chatham’s questions politely and made no other comments as the court listened to the terms of the plea bargain worked out between the District Attorney’s Office and Tony Farese, counsel for the accused.

Champion told the judge he met with Farese for several hours on Wednesday in preparation for the revocation hearing, and the result of that meeting was an agreement between the state and the defense. The deal presented to the court was “in the best interest of justice” according to Champion, and fully understood by and acceptable to the accused, the defense attorney said.

When asked by the judge what the opinion of the victim’s family is about the plea bargain, Champion said he had not spoken with the children’s parents or guardians about the deal. The DA asked if the judge would consider allowing the attorneys to explain the matter further privately because the case is “unique and sensitive,”  and Judge Chatham declined to stop the hearing.

“My question about what I see in front of me is what does the family think, and I’m hearing that it hasn’t been discussed with them,” Chatman said.

Champion assured the judge his office had made attempts to include the family of the victim, but the boy Saripkin was accused of fondling flatly refused to cooperate, and that the victim himself denied that any fondling had taken place. Champion proceeded to tell the court the information he had first wanted to disclose only in the judge’s chambers, giving some insight into what had led to the arrest last month.

Champion said an off-duty Panola County Sheriff’s deputy had observed Saripkin having inappropriate sexual contact in the C-SPIRE store in Batesville. The deputy told department investigators what he had observed and when the store’s security footage was reviewed it was clear, Champion said, that sexual misconduct had taken place.

Other reports said the footage showed Saripkin, who has been convicted of sex crimes against children several times in Tennessee and Mississippi for three decades, hugging and kissing the boy. Sources told The Panolian the boy and his family denied any wrongdoing had taken place, even when shown photos taken from the surveillance cameras.

Because the victim’s family stonewalled the investigation, officials believed the best course of action to ensure that Saripkin would be incarcerated for the crime was the plea bargain. There was no guarantee the victim’s family would participate in a trial.

“I would have liked for this to have gone different in some ways, but I know that since the 1990s this man has been molesting children and this way I’m sure that he won’t touch another child in Panola County for at least his sentence,” said Sheriff Shane Phelps.

“Our investigators and the District Attorney’s Office did all that was possible to see him get sentenced and away from Panola County children, but I promise that we will continue to work on cases that might involve him,” Phelps said.

Part of the plea bargain included clauses that prohibit him from filing any appeals and require him to serve the 17 years day-for-day with no possibility of early release. Also, at the insistence of the Sheriff’s Office, any new allegations against Saripkin will continue to be investigated, and should cases be developed in the future the self-admitted pedophile remains subject to prosecution and more prison time if convicted.

“If we have some other victims come forward and our investigation reveals that we have a new case we will go get him and bring him right back here to try for another sentence if that’s how it works out,” Phelps said.

Phelps, along with other lawmen and prosecutors, believe Saripkin’s 2013 conviction should have been his last in Panola County, and took offense that he has lived and worked freely in Sardis for the past few years, sometimes being seen in the company of children.

Saripkin involved himself in the Sardis community, especially with the Chamber of Commerce. He was chosen to be Grand Marshal of the town’s Christmas Parade in 2018, angering many of the local residents. Saripkin made many financial donations to groups and organizations in Sardis and the North Panola School District, even purchasing bullet proof vests for the police department when funding was short several years ago.

Until the C-SPIRE cameras recorded him fondling the Sardis teen, investigators had no credible proof of wrongdoing. The victim in this case, much like those in the 2013, had lived and traveled with Saripkin, and had never made a complaint to authorities.

Saripkin was sentenced on the two matters for a combined 27 years. Broken down, his incarceration will be 14 years for revocation of probation from the previous child sex crime case in 2013, three years for his current charge of child fondling, five years of probation that requires him to report monthly to an officer of the court, and five years of unsupervised probation.

In addition to the 17 years to serve, the judge ordered Saripkin to pay $1,000 to the Mississippi Children’s Trust Fund and $1,000 to the state’s Human Trafficking Fund. He must pay $100 a month to those funds, beginning no later than 60 days after his release from prison. He will also have to pay $55 a month to the county during the five years he will be on supervised probation.