The agreement, the terms of which were not disclosed, was announced as a jury arrived to hear opening arguments in the civil case in Riverhead. Credit: Randee Daddona

The Bay Shore school district has settled a lawsuit filed by a former student who alleged he was sexually abused by third grade teacher Thomas Bernagozzi over a three-year period in the late 1980s, one of 45 Child Victims Act claims filed against the district involving the teacher.

The agreement, the terms of which were not publicly disclosed, was reached Friday evening and announced as a jury arrived to hear opening arguments in Riverhead on Monday. It is the first uninsured claim against the district to settle.

“The actual terms of the agreement are being placed in a formal document that will be signed by both the plaintiff and the board" of education, attorney Lewis Silverman, of Silverman & Associates in White Plains, told State Supreme Court Justice Christopher Modelewski.

Silverman, whose firm is representing the district in several cases, said the school board has not yet voted on the settlement. 

WHAT TO KNOW

  • The Bay Shore school district has settled a lawsuit filed by a former student who alleged he was sexually abused by third grade teacher Thomas Bernagozzi over a three-year period in the late 1980s.
  • The lawsuit is one of 45 Child Victims Act claims filed against the district involving the teacher.
  • The terms of the agreement — announced before a jury was scheduled to hear opening arguments in the case on Monday morning — were not publicly disclosed.

Modelewski told the jury an agreement was reached early Friday evening after the parties had worked through the last of the pretrial motions. He explained that having a jury empaneled often causes both parties to resolve a civil case before testimony begins.

“There's just something about actually having a jury that makes the parties and the attorneys drill down on what's really important and come to, in this case, a negotiated settlement,” Modelewski said as he dismissed the eight Suffolk residents from jury service.

Silverman said a third-party complaint the district filed against Bernagozzi, 75, of Babylon, was dismissed as part of the agreement.

The lawsuit was filed in July 2021 by C.J. Brandl, a former Bay Shore student who alleged he was sexually abused by Bernagozzi from 1986 to 1989. The complaint alleges the district was negligent in failing to protect students from abuse by Bernagozzi despite allegations raised during his 30-year career, which ended in 2000.

Bernagozzi taught Brandl in 1986-87 and then taught his brother, Chris, the following school year. Both Brandl brothers have alleged Bernagozzi sexually abused them in civil claims and in interviews with Newsday, in which they said they kept the abuse a secret until recently.

“I thought I did something wrong for the longest time,” C.J. Brandl said earlier this year. “It’s shame — I’m ashamed of this. I buried this. I never, ever imagined speaking about this.”

Brandl was not present in court Monday. Newsday does not name victims of alleged abuse without their consent.

The Child Victims Act, which opened a temporary window beginning in 2019 for anyone who suffered sexual abuse as a child to file claims, closed in August 2021. Bay Shore is facing more claims than any other Long Island district, all relating to Bernagozzi.

Of the 45 claims, six are covered by insurance policies, the district previously told residents. So far only one insured claim has settled, though the terms of that agreement also have not been disclosed. The remaining 43 cases are in various stages of litigation, court records show, with several more scheduled for trial later this year.

Long Island districts have paid more than $38.2 million to settle 55 lawsuits brought by former students who say teachers, administrators and fellow students sexually abused them, according to a Newsday tally. That number likely will rise as 29 other suits have been settled, but Newsday has yet to receive agreements through Freedom of Information Law requests.

A Newsday investigation published in March found Bay Shore kept Bernagozzi employed despite sexual abuse allegations that were raised throughout his career. The district paid attorneys representing them in the civil claims more than $685,000 through February, according to invoices obtained by Newsday. That figure does not include settlement totals.

The Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, which opened an investigation into the allegations against Bernagozzi in response to the civil suits, since has filed criminal charges related to three of the alleged victims. Bernagozzi initially pleaded not guilty to a single count each of sexual conduct against a child and sodomy in December. He also denied five new charges on June 18 accusing him of possessing a sexual performance by a child.

Suffolk County Assistant District Attorney Dana Castaldo told acting State Supreme Court Justice Karen Wilutis that investigators found “tens of thousands” of photographs and 11,000 photo negatives during a search warrant executed at Bernagozzi's home following his arrest Dec. 21. The prosecutor said the five photos that led to new criminal charges showed an 8-year-old former student as he sat nude on a bench and cement ledge at a beach.

Suffolk prosecutors have referred to Bernagozzi as “a serial child abuser” who they say sexually abused “scores of male students” between the ages of 4 and 12 during his three decades with the district.

Castaldo said Bernagozzi cataloged photographs and negatives of his former male students by name and age, with dates and locations. If convicted on all seven counts in the criminal case, Bernagozzi faces the possibility of being sentenced to up to 70 years in state prison.

Bernagozzi, who had previously been free on a $600,000 bond, has been held at the Suffolk County Jail in Riverhead since Wilutis increased bail to $1.5 million cash, $2.5 million bond or $10 million partially secured bond on June 18. He is due back in criminal court July 12.

Bernagozzi’s attorney, Samuel DiMeglio Jr., of Huntington, has declined to comment on the civil and criminal cases. DiMeglio refused to exit through the front door of the courtroom Monday as media waited outside. The judge eventually granted him permission to exit through a rear door, away from cameras, court officials said.

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