A Tennessee woman facing more than 40 criminal counts of inappropriate sexual contact with at least 18 teenage boys in McMinn County between 2018 and 2021 was sentenced to 22 years behind bars following a guilty plea in Criminal Court.
Melissa Ann Blair, 40, previously of Englewood, Tennessee, was sentenced Monday on a guilty plea to aggravated statutory rape, solicitation of a minor, patronizing prostitution, soliciting sexual exploitation of a minor and sexual exploitation of a minor through electronic means. Court records show she was first charged on an indictment in the case in February 2022.
At the end of her hearing before Criminal Court Judge Andrew M. Freiberg, Blair was placed directly into custody and escorted from the courtroom by two McMinn County court officers. The courtroom in the Justice Center is in the same building as the jail. Blair had remained free on a $1 million bond since June 2022.
Robert Kurtz, Blair's attorney, told Freiberg he and his client had been in plea negotiations with District Attorney Shari Tayloe's office for the past four to six months. Freiberg noted Blair will become eligible for release on parole after serving 30% of her sentence.
A referral to the McMinn County Sheriff's Office from the Tennessee Department of Children's Services triggered the investigation that started Dec. 9, 2021, stemming from allegations Blair had been having sexual encounters with boys who were students at McMinn Central High School in Englewood, according to Tayloe.
"The detectives, during the course of their investigation, had several of these victims interviewed at the child advocacy center," Tayloe told Freiberg during Blair's hearing.
Those interviews were followed by a search warrant at Blair's home and an interview with Blair, Tayloe said.
"During that interview, Ms. Blair did admit she was having inappropriate sex relations with several underage males," Tayloe said. "The males that at that time had indicated she would communicate with them through social media — Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook — and set up for them to meet, have sex. There were several of these minors that she was offering vapes, cigarettes, alcohol, in exchange for sexual relations with her."
Blair's cellphone also contained several inappropriate photos of victims in the case, Tayloe said.
Blair turned herself in on the initial charges in February 2022 stemming from incidents that police said occurred between spring 2020 and December 2021. Those charges included 23 criminal counts in connection with her alleged contact with the first nine boys, including 18 counts of aggravated statutory rape, four counts of human trafficking by patronizing prostitution and one count of solicitation of a minor, court records show.
The youngest of the alleged victims in the February 2022 indictment was 14 at the time, court records show.
In June 2022, Blair was charged with 20 more counts related to allegations stemming from incidents occurring between August 2018 and December 2021, which involved nine new male teens, including three counts of solicitation of a minor, four counts of soliciting sexual exploitation of a minor by electronic means, five counts of patronizing prostitution, six counts of aggravated statutory rape, sexual exploitation of a minor and sexual exploitation of a minor by electronic means, according to court records and officials.
The youngest alleged victim in June 2022 indictment was 15 at the time.
Blair's only connection to local schools is as a parent of students, authorities said.
Blair was accused of communicating with the boys on social media, arranging meetings with them and trading items for sexual encounters, authorities said during the beginning of the investigation. A letter from McMinn County Director of Schools Lee Parkison to Blair in December 2021 had banned her from all county school properties or activities, according to authorities. That order remained in effect throughout the period prior to Monday's hearing.