$2.7M bail for Jose Saez Jr., a Brentwood pastor accused of sexual exploitation of a minor. NewsdayTV’s Steve Langford reports. Credit: Newsday/James Carbone

A federal judge set a $2.7 million bail Wednesday for a Brentwood pastor who allegedly made sexually explicit contact with more than 30 minors, but federal prosecutors immediately appealed the ruling arguing he is a “danger to the community” and a flight risk.

Jose Saez Jr., 28, who was arrested by the FBI on child pornography charges Sept. 28, was granted release by U.S. Magistrate Judge James Wicks in Central Islip on a $2.7 million bond. But the judge agreed to stay his decision, which includes conditions to prevent Saez from using the internet and to relinquish his role at his church, for up to two days as prosecutors appeal.

“No condition could keep the community safe from the defendant,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Adam Toporovsky said in pleading with the judge to keep Saez in custody. Prosecutors will likely argue the appeal Thursday before U.S. District Court Judge Joan Azrack.

FBI investigators, working with Suffolk County police, arrested Saez in September following interactions he had with an undercover law enforcement officer, federal prosecutors said. They also discovered a cellphone with an app containing 15 sexually explicit videos allegedly sent at the pastor’s request by a young man claiming to be a 16-year-old boy, according to the criminal complaint.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • A federal judge set a $2.7 million bail Wednesday for a Brentwood pastor who allegedly made sexually explicit contact with more than 30 minors.
  • Federal prosecutors immediately appealed the bail ruling, arguing Jose Saez Jr. is a “danger to the community” and a flight risk.
  • Saez, a pastor of Iglesia Cristiana Alumbrando El Camino church on Second Avenue in Brentwood, pleaded not guilty during his arraignment on an 8-count indictment charging him with sexual exploitation of a child, attempted sexual exploitation of a child, coercion and enticement, possession of child pornography and four counts of distribution of child pornography.

During an interview at his home, Saez told an FBI investigator he has engaged in similar conduct with others and that he knew it was child sexual abuse material, court papers show.

“I’m sorry that I cannot stop,” Saez told the investigator, pleading “never leave me alone with the kids,” according to court documents.

Prosecutors also alleged that Saez told the undercover law enforcement officer his “sweet spot” was for molesting children between the ages of 11 and 15 years old, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a news release.

Saez, a pastor of Iglesia Cristiana Alumbrando El Camino church on Second Avenue in Brentwood, pleaded not guilty during his arraignment on an 8-count indictment charging him with sexual exploitation of a child, attempted sexual exploitation of a child, coercion and enticement, possession of child pornography and four counts of distribution of child pornography. 

His bond would be secured by his parents, a grandmother, aunt, sister-in-law and a family friend, who posted property and agreed to forfeit future income should Saez not meet the conditions of his release.

Saez was supported by nearly two dozen family members, parishioners and fellow clergy at the hearing, flashing a smile as he was ushered by a U.S. Marshal into the courtroom in a wheelchair. Defense attorney John LoTurco of Huntington said Saez has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis while in federal custody, one of the reasons he argued bail is necessary.

LoTurco also argued Saez has strong ties to his community, where he has preached for more than a decade.

“Everyone has a presumption of innocence,” the attorney said. “I understand these are challenging cases based on the nature of the case, but the defendants are … entitled to bail. Judge Wicks is a very thoughtful and considerate Judge and, in our mind, he did the right thing.”

Prosecutors say they have widened their investigation into Saez after securing 12,000 videos, 400,000 images and 6,800 online chats taken from Saez’s devices during the September search and have identified at least 30 instances when someone presenting themselves as 16 years old or younger shared videos with him, Toporovsky told Wicks.

Toporovsky said investigators are in the process of identifying and locating those minors.

If granted bail following the prosecutors’ appeal, Wicks ordered that Saez stay under “home incarceration” with his grandmother. He will not be allowed to use a cellphone that connects to the internet and his grandmother and a housemate will be ordered to keep their internet device passwords from him.

At court, six bail suretors spoke in support of Saez.

“He’s really nice, my grandson,” Olga Torres of Brentwood told Wicks during the bail hearing. Aunt Helen Silwany of St. James told the judge that Saez “mentored all of my kids.”

LoTurco said the Saez family is “hopeful” he’ll be released following the pending hearing.

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