A former priest wanted by police after he was accused of sexually abusing a 6-year-old Hampton Bays girl has been on the lam since the end of June, when he was questioned by Southampton Town Police and released from their custody.
The family of the victim, who is not being identified by authorities, contacted Town Police on June 28 after they suspected that longtime family friend Augusto Cortez—whose last known address was on Staten Island, although he also owns the Norbury Road home where the victim and her family have been staying in Hampton Bays—had sexually abused the girl, possibly on more than one occasion.
On June 28, a member of the victim’s family told authorities that she observed Mr. Cortez, a former Catholic priest of the Vincentian Congregation, adjusting his pants after being left alone in the room with the child during a family party at her Hampton Bays home, according to Southampton Town Detective Sergeant Lisa Costa.
He was brought in the next day, questioned by detectives and later released because they did not have enough evidence to charge him with a crime, even though they were aware that he was already on probation for inappropriately touching a 12-year-old girl at a Catholic school in Bushwick, Brooklyn, in 2008. He was kicked out of the priesthood at that time.
It was not until the first week of July that Town Police had enough evidence to charge Mr. Cortez with first-degree sexual abuse, a felony that could carry a sentence of two to seven years in prison, and issued an arrest warrant.
Town Police would not say where they have searched for Mr. Cortez over the past three months, and also declined to say if they think he has fled the country.
Michael Dowd, the Manhattan attorney who is representing the family of the victim, said this week that they now believe the abuse could have been happening for years, noting that the 6-year-old victim had contracted a sexually transmitted disease. She also has an 18-year-old sister who, Mr. Dowd said, was not abused by Mr. Cortez.
“We’re doing this because we think there are other victims out there,” said Mr. Dowd, explaining the family’s decision to announce what had taken place three months earlier.
Mr. Dowd also pointed out that the family is publicizing their ordeal due to their growing frustration with the lack of progress in the police investigation.
Det. Sgt. Costa said this week that there was not enough evidence to charge Mr. Cortez when he was brought in for questioning on June 29, though she declined to explain what piece of information justified issuing the warrant the following week.
“There was no initial evidence that a crime occurred,” Det. Sgt. Costa said. “Police actively pursued the case until they found evidence.
“We worked until we were able to support the charges,” she added. “We found out that he fled within several days of the initial questioning.”
Det. Sgt. Costa declined to share a copy of the police report, nor to offer an explanation as to why detectives never took any action to alert the public about the incident.
It is unclear where Mr. Cortez is now hiding, though Mr. Dowd said he has heard that he might now be living in Texas.
According to Det. Sgt. Costa, Town Police detectives have been working with New York City probation officers, the Suffolk County district attorney’s office and the U.S. Marshals in trying to locate Mr. Cortez.
Mr. Cortez, who was sentenced to six years of probation for inappropriately touching the 12-year-old girl at a Catholic school in Brooklyn, had been assigned there after completing a two-year assignment on the East End—an assignment that included briefly serving at the Church of Saint Rosalie on Montauk Highway in Hampton Bays. In fact, it was at that church that Mr. Cortez first met the victim’s family; he was present when one of their children received First Communion, according to Mr. Dowd.
Mr. Cortez was involved with St. Rosalie’s, as well as other Catholic churches on the East End, from 2003 until 2005, according to Father Kevin Thompson, who currently serves at St. Rosalie’s. “We have not seen him in years,” he said Tuesday. “We are keeping the family and the child in our prayers.”
Det. Sgt. Costa said detectives were aware of Mr. Cortez’s probationary status and that the victim’s family knew of the probation as well. In fact, Mr. Cortez has been registered as a Level 1 sex offender in New York State—the lowest classification, meaning offenders are least likely to repeat their crimes—since his original arrest.
Det. Sgt. Costa noted that Mr. Cortez was wanted in Kings County, also for violating probation, although she did not say what he did wrong.
Mr. Dowd said the girl’s family now believes that the sexual abuse had been going on for years. “The probability is that this had been happening for a long time,” he said. “We’re trying to piece together how often they were together.”
He said the child complained of discomfort in September 2013, and a physician diagnosed her with a sexually transmitted disease. Mr. Dowd would not say when the doctor confirmed this diagnosis or why the family did not file a complaint at that time.
“There was an effort to see if anyone in the family had the same disease, and no one did,” he said.
Now that the incident is being publicized, Mr. Dowd says he hopes that others will now step forward if they believe they were abused by Mr. Cortez. The attorney pointed out that the family of the victim, which was not available for comment, primarily speaks Spanish, making it difficult for them to warn others about the situation.
“I’m fairly confident that other victims will come forward,” Mr. Dowd said. “It’s not an easy thing. When that does happen, these victims are doing something very frightening.”
Mr. Dowd said the young girl has been seeing a therapist.
“When a child is molested, it’s a very slow healing process,” he said. “This is something [victims] have to deal with for the rest of their lives.”