A teacher from PS 174 in Rego Park who was arrested on sex abuse allegations in February is facing more charges after police and prosecutors identified three more boys who have alleged that they were inappropriately touched between 2007 and 2011.
Wilbert Cortez, 49, who also lives in Rego Park, was arraigned May 30 on two counts of first-degree sexual abuse, one count of second-degree course of sexual conduct against a child and three counts of endangering the welfare of a child, according to a statement issued by the office of Queens District Attorney Richard Brown.
In February Cortez was charged with two counts of second-degree course of sexual conduct against a child and two counts of endangering the welfare of a child.
Already free on his initial $50,000 bail, Cortez saw Queens Criminal Court Judge Deborah Modica add $20,000 for each new complaint, or a total of $60,000. The Chronicle was unable to determine if Cortez had made bail.
“These are serious allegations 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,” Brown said in the statement. “Schools should be safe havens where children are protected from harm.”
Since the start of the current school year in September, more than 15 employees of the city’s Department of Education, including teachers and classroom aides, have been arrested on charges related to improper sexual contact with students.
According to the newest complaints, Cortez is accused of placing his hands on the genitals of two boys, ages 6 and 10, over their clothing while they were in his classroom. In the case of the 10-year-old, authorities also allege that Cortez would fondle the boy as he helped clean up after class.
The third new complaint alleges that he escorted an 8-year-old boy who needed to use the bathroom to the teacher’s bathroom, which is across the hall from the school’s computer lab, and rubbed the boy under his clothing.
Cortez’s first arrest on Feb. 16 caused a furor among parents at PS 174 after it was learned that DOE officials knew of a previous incident from 2000 when Cortez worked at PS 184 in Brooklyn.
In September 2000, six months after the claim was substantiated by DOE investigators, Cortez was transferred to PS 174.
Cortez received no discipline other than a letter in his personnel file. Under DOE policy, the principal at PS 174 in 2000 had no access to the letter. Nor did Karin Kelly, the current principal.
The day after Cortez’s first arrest, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott participated in a heated two-hour meeting at the school with parents.
He has since initiated a review of all personnel records from 2000 forward to see if there are any other active Education Department personnel with substantiated claims against them.
Walcott said he will attempt to fire any personnel with substantiated claims from now on.
The case is being investigated by the NYPD’s Queens Child Abuse Squad.
Cortez, who already was facing up to seven years in prison, could face an additional seven years if convicted on the new charges.
He is scheduled to be in court again on June 11.