Bronx Teacher Faces Pornography Charges; Accused of Paying Boys for Photos

By Kate Taylor March 6, 2015

A teacher and debate coach at the prestigious Bronx High School of Science was arrested on Friday on charges that he persuaded teenage boys to send him nude or suggestive photographs via cellphones in exchange for gift cards.

According to a criminal complaint filed in Federal District Court in Manhattan, between August 2014 and February, the teacher, Jon Cruz, paid three boys — two 15-year-olds in New Mexico and one 14-year-old in upstate New York — to send him photographs of themselves. He paid one of the boys in New Mexico over $500 in gift cards to send him nude photographs that showed him posing with an erection in front of a mirror, the complaint says. In the other photographs, the boys were clothed and showed off parts of their bodies.

Mr. Cruz, 31, chatted with the boys using the messaging app Kik, pretending to be a high school student, the complaint says. He used a fake name and the photograph of a former Bronx Science student to disguise his age. The Federal Bureau of Investigation traced the Kik account to Mr. Cruz using Internet protocol addresses, which can show the location of a computer. Two addresses used to access the account were linked to his home; a third was associated with the New York City public school system, the complaint says.

Mr. Cruz was charged with one count of production of child pornography, one count of receiving child pornography and one count of possessing child pornography, according to the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan. He appeared in court but did not enter a plea, and was granted a $1 million personal recognizance bond.

His lawyer, Michael Paul, declined to comment on Friday.

F.B.I. agents arrested Mr. Cruz and searched his Manhattan apartment on Friday. According to the complaint, Mr. Cruz admitted to engaging in the chats and soliciting the photographs from the three teenagers. He also admitted to soliciting photographs from a Bronx Science student in exchange for a gift.

Mr. Cruz has taught at Bronx Science since 2006. In addition to coaching the speech and debate team, he teaches an Advanced Placement government course and is the adviser to the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance.

In an email to parents on Friday, the principal of Bronx Science, Jean M. Donahue, said Mr. Cruz “has been reassigned from the school at an alternate location where he will not be in contact with students.”

According to the complaint, part of the investigation began when parents in New Mexico contacted a sheriff’s office in December and said that their sons had been paid by someone to send images of themselves over a messaging app. An F.B.I. agent says in the complaint that he met with five “New Mexico victims,” but the complaint mentions only conversations with two boys.

One told the agent that a person using what was later determined to be a fake name contacted him in August 2014, over Kik, and began asking him to send pictures of his feet and face, and of him doing a “thumbs-up selfie.” The person, whom the complaint alleges is Mr. Cruz, told the boy that he was a 15- or 16-year-old and a nerd who “had a thing for jocks.”

Mr. Cruz told the boy that he was going to move to New Mexico and perform sexual acts on him and become his “slave,” the complaint says. Later, he asked the boy to send several nude photographs, which he did, according to the complaint. He also asked the boy to provide him with the names of other boys who would chat with him.

Separately, in August, a woman called a police department in upstate New York and said that her son was receiving unwanted messages on his phone. In the messages, Mr. Cruz asked the boy for pictures of his calves and arm muscles, and “cocky shirtless mirror shots.”

“Pictures just have a huge impact on me,” Mr. Cruz wrote, according to the complaint. Mr. Cruz told the boy that he lived in New York City and went to the Dalton School, but that his parents were moving to the boy’s town because they “do venture capital and want to invest in upstate New York.”

Mr. Cruz, who grew up in Great Neck and attended Vassar College, received a coach of the year award in 2013 from the National Forensic League, which noted that the Bronx Science speech and debate team was consistently one of the top teams in the country.

One team member, Eve Alterman, 16, a junior, said she was confused by the news. In her experience, she said, Mr. Cruz was a popular teacher and coach, intelligent and caring.

“I really admire how he transformed the team,” she said. “When we walk into any debate tournament, people turn around and know who we are, and he did that.”

Mr. Cruz is also known at the school for his love of political history. According to an article last year in The New York Times on collectors, he began saving political memorabilia as a child and has pins for every presidential candidate in primary and general elections since 1896.

On his Facebook page, he posted a video from last Halloween, when he dressed as Chester A. Arthur, the 21st president. He arrived at school in a limousine, exited the car accompanied by a brass band, and then unfurled an American flag — or, as he noted, technically a naval ensign — from 1881.