Southampton Town police on Saturday arrested a former priest who they said fled the country in 2014 as detectives centered on him in their investigation into the sexual assault of a young girl in Hampton Bays, officials said.
Augusto Cortez, 53, was arrested by Southampton police at Kennedy Airport after he was extradited to the United States from Guatemala, police and Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota said.
He was being held without bail after he pleaded not guilty Monday during his arraignment on an indictment for first-degree criminal sexual act, first-degree sexual abuse and endangering the welfare of a child before Acting Supreme Court Justice Barbara Kahn, Spota and police said.
Cortez was being represented by the Legal Aid Society, which does not comment on cases.
He had been indicted in October 2014 in connection with acts that authorities said took place in June 2014.
Cortez was being held in the Suffolk jail until his next court date of May 15, and Kahn issued a temporary order of protection for the alleged victim.
Cortez is already a registered sex offender, having pleaded guilty in 2009 to forcibly touching a 12-year-old girl in Brooklyn, authorities said.
He was on probation in connection with that conviction when the girl in the Hampton Bays parish was assaulted, officials and court papers said. Documents also state that the abuse of the Hampton Bays girl, who was born in 2007, happened several times between 2009 and 2014.
Cortez had been part of the Diocese of Rockville Centre’s Hispanic Apostolate and worked at St. Rosalie parish in Hampton Bays, according to a lawsuit filed by the girl’s family in state Supreme Court in Queens. The suit also noted that Cortez had a friendship with the victim’s family that had lasted some 10 years.
The alleged victim’s family, who worshipped at the parish, filed the lawsuit in November 2015 against the Diocese of Rockville Centre and Cortez’s order, the Congregation of the Mission, also known as the Vincentians.
A spokesman for the Diocese declined to comment Monday and the Vincentian order could not be reached for comment.
But in 2015, Sean Dolan, the diocese spokesman, confirmed to Newsday that Cortez had worked in the parish in Hampton Bays in 2003 and 2004. Dolan added that the Vincentians suspended Cortez from working as a priest, engaging in public ministry and being alone with children in 2008, several years after he had finished his work with the diocese.
Also in 2015, when the lawsuit was filed, the order released a statement saying it had suspended Cortez from religious ministry in 2008.
Cortez “was prohibited by the Vincentian Order from holding himself out as a priest, could not engage in public ministry, and, as with his probation restrictions, could not be alone in the presence of children,” the order’s statement said, adding that, “Our hearts and prayers go out to the family and we will continue to assist law enforcement officials to bring the fugitive Cortez to justice. Issues from this lawsuit must be dealt with in court.”
An attorney handling the lawsuit could not be reached for comment Monday.