By Steve Mosco
Officials leveled more charges against a Queens teacher accused of inappropriate behavior with young students, the Queens district attorney said last week.
DA Richard Brown announced May 30 that elementary school teacher Wilbert Cortez, 49, was charged with molesting three male students between 2007 and 2011, bringing the total to five alleged victims.
Cortez, a computer lab teacher at PS 174, at 65-10 Dieterle Crescent in Rego Park, was previously charged with two counts of sexual abuse in February.
“These are serious accusations in which a school teacher — who should serve as a role model to students — is instead accused of using his position to gain access to children for his own gratification,” said District Attorney Richard Brown. “Schools should be safe havens where students are protected from harm.”
According to the latest charges, Cortez is accused in two separate criminal complaints of placing his hand on the genitals of two students — ages 6 and 10 — over their clothing while they were seated in the classroom. The district attorney also alleges the 10-year-old was fondled after staying late to help clean the classroom.
In a third complaint, Cortez is charged with groping an 8-year-old child under his clothing in a restroom across the hall from the computer lab after escorting the child to the teachers’ bathroom rather than the students’ bathroom.
Cortez was arraigned May 30 on three criminal complaints containing a total of two counts of sexual abuse, one count involving sexual conduct against a child and three counts of endangering the welfare of a child.
A judge set bail at $60,000 and ordered Cortez to return to court June 11. Cortez faces up to seven years in prison if convicted on the latest charges, the DA said.
Cortez was originally arrested Feb. 16 and charged with fondling two students — ages 7 and 8 — through their clothing on multiple occasions between Sept. 7, 2010, and June 30, 2011.
The initial charges against Cortez sparked city Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott to launch a full review of all city Department of Education personal in February. Walcott said the review would reach back to 2000 and he would move to dismiss any employee with a record of inappropriate behavior with children.
Cortez had a substantiated sexual incident at PS 184 in Brooklyn in 1999 and 2000, but PS 174’s principal was not aware of it, Walcott said, which is why the review was launched.
“I will not let any teacher or [school] personnel to be involved in any sexual touching of our schoolchildren,” Walcott said outside PS 174, after the original charges against Cortez came to light.
Reach reporter Steve Mosco by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.