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Apr 24, 2017 4:50 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Former Priest Who Sexually Abused Hampton Bays Girl Found In Guatemala

Apr 26, 2017 11:32 AM

A defrocked priest who fled the country three years ago—after being accused of sexually abusing a 6-year-old Hampton Bays girl and giving her a sexually transmitted disease—was extradited to the United States from Guatemala on Saturday, four months after being apprehended by authorities in the Central American country.

Augusto Cortez, 53, was arrested by Southampton Town Police at John F. Kennedy Airport on April 22 after being located by authorities in Guatemala on December 7, 2016; he was extradited to America with the assistance of the U.S. Marshals and the Suffolk County district attorney’s office, authorities said.

They noted that he fled the country shortly after the Hampton Bays incident in June 2014, after he was questioned by Town Police once the victim’s parents filed a complaint. Authorities said he fled to Central America after realizing he was the target of a police investigation, and has lived in several different countries to avoid arrest.

Mr. Cortez, who authorities said also goes by Augusto Cortez-Oliva, was arrested by Guatemalan police four months ago, according to David Oney, a representative of the U.S. Marshal’s Office of Public Affairs. While it is unclear why he was arrested, Mr. Cortez was identified through an active arrest warrant issued on October 2, 2014, for the Hampton Bays crime and multiple parole violations, Mr. Oney said. It was unclear why it took four months to extradite Mr. Cortez.

Mr. Cortez was charged with one count each of first-degree sexual abuse of a child and first-degree criminal sexual act, both felonies, as well as endangering the welfare of a child, a misdemeanor, according to police.

He was arraigned on Monday before Suffolk County Criminal Court Judge Barbara Kahn in Riverside and entered a plea of not guilty, according to Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota’s office. Mr. Cortez was then remanded without bail to the Suffolk County Jail in Riverside and is due back in court on Monday, May 15.

Police have also issued a temporary order of protection against Mr. Cortez for the young victim, who is now 9 and not being identified by The Press due to her age and the nature of the crime.

Mr. Cortez is facing between 7 1/3 and 32 years in prison if convicted of the two felonies, according to Robert Clifford, a spokesman for Mr. Spota.

Mr. Cortez was represented in court by Douglas O’Connor of the Legal Aid Society of Suffolk County. Mr. O'Connor did not immediately return a call seeking comment on the case.

According to a lawsuit filed in November 2015 by the parents of the young girl against the Congregation of the Mission of St. Vincent De Paul, a Roman Catholic order based in Pennsylvania, Mr. Cortez first met the victim’s family when he was serving at St. Rosalie’s church in Hampton Bays more than a decade earlier. He served at the Hampton Bays parish until moving to the St. John the Baptist Roman Catholic Church in Brooklyn in 2005, though he continued to frequently attend services on the East End.

The lawsuit, which seeks an undeclared amount of punitive and compensatory damages, notes that Mr. Cortez visited the victim’s family in June 2014. The girl’s mother later told police that she saw Mr. Cortez adjusting his pants after exiting a room in which he was alone with her daughter. Mr. Cortez was questioned by Town Police detectives but later released due to a lack of evidence, investigators said at the time. Police learned after he had fled the country that the girl had contracted genital herpes, an incurable STD.

Suffolk County Supreme Court Judge Allen B. Weiss in September 2016 denied a motion filed by the Vincentian Order to dismiss the lawsuit, stating that Mr. Cortez had a criminal history and continued to pose a danger to children, according to court records. In 2008, Mr. Cortez was arrested in Brooklyn after police said he fondled the breasts of a 12-year-old female student at St. John the Baptist Catholic Parish School when the two were alone in a computer room, authorities said.

He later pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of forcibly touching the young student and defrocked of being a priest though permitted to remain with the Vincentian Order, according to authorities.

As part of his release, Mr. Cortez was not supposed to go near children and was required to register as a Level 1 sex offender. He was also supposed to be under strict supervision by the order, which had a “safety plan” that was reviewed annually to ensure that he was not violating parole.

In a prepared statement issued on Tuesday, Suzi Halpin, a representative of the Vincentian Order, said her organization denies the lawsuit’s allegations, specifically the claim that the order repeatedly told the family that the 2008 charges against Mr. Cortez were an “accident” and the former priest did not pose a threat to them.

“Our hearts and prayers continue to go out to the family,” Ms. Halpin said in the same statement.

Michael G. Dowd of New York City, the attorney representing the family of the victim in the lawsuit, was not immediately available.

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