Former Bay Shore teacher Thomas Bernagozzi, 75, is facing new child pornography charges after investigators found negatives of nude photographs he took of a former student. NewsdayTV's Virginia Huie reports. Credit: John Roca; A. J. Singh; NewsdayTV;

A former Bay Shore teacher accused of sexually abusing dozens of students during his 30-year career is facing new charges after investigators found negatives of nude photographs he took of a former student, prosecutors said at his arraignment Tuesday.

Thomas Bernagozzi, 75, pleaded not guilty to a new indictment charging him with five counts of possessing a sexual performance by a child.

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

Castaldo said Bernagozzi cataloged photographs and negatives of his former male students by name and age, with dates and locations.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • A former Bay Shore teacher accused of sexually abusing dozens of students was indicted on child pornography charges after investigators found negatives of nude photographs he took of a former student, prosecutors say.
  • Thomas Bernagozzi, 75, pleaded not guilty to a new indictment charging him with five counts of possessing a sexual performance by a child.
  • Prosecutors said Bernagozzi cataloged photographs and negatives of his former male students by name and age, with dates and locations.

She said former students told investigators Bernagozzi mainly photographed them using a Polaroid camera, which would not have required the images to be developed in a photo lab, but no such photos were found during the search warrant. Castaldo said law enforcement believes Bernagozzi likely got rid of those photos after allegations were first made against him in civil court three years ago, a notion his attorney rejected.

“They have absolutely no factual basis for that statement,” said defense attorney William LaVelle, of Patchogue, who is representing Bernagozzi along with Samuel DiMeglio, of Huntington.

Bernagozzi, who had been free on a $600,000 bond, was escorted out of the courtroom in handcuffs after Wilutis increased his bail to $1 million cash, $2.5 million bond or $10 million partially secured bond. 

Wilutis, who at one point scolded Bernagozzi for chewing gum during the proceeding, said the additional charges strengthen the prosecution's case against Bernagozzi and the possibility of an even longer sentence “certainly increases the risk of flight.”

Castaldo said if convicted of all seven charges in the two indictments, Bernagozzi faces the possibility of being sentenced to as much as 70 years in prison.

LaVelle argued Bernagozzi has made every court appearance and that he is not a flight risk at his advanced age. He also said Bernagozzi is due to testify in a civil trial against the Bay Shore school district, which is countersuing him, that is scheduled for opening arguments Monday and his freedom would better enable them to prepare for his testimony.

 LaVelle said Bernagozzi's home was used to secure the previous bond and suggested he might not be able to post the additional bail. He declined to comment outside the courtroom.

LaVelle minimized the allegations against his client, saying a photograph of a nude child is not necessarily evidence of child pornography.

“There's a picture on my refrigerator of a young child taking a bath, maybe I need to throw it out,” LaVelle told Wilutis.

The Bay Shore school district is facing 45 Child Victims Act claims related to allegations of abuse by Bernagozzi involving students of the district during his tenure from 1970 to 2000. 

 A Newsday investigation published in March found Bay Shore kept Bernagozzi employed despite sexual abuse allegations spanning decades. The Bay Shore school district declined to comment, citing the ongoing litigation.

The current civil case, which unlike the previously settled case is not covered under insurance, would be the first to go before a jury. That jury was selected last week. 

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 30-year tenure as a third grade teacher in the Bay Shore school district.

Bernagozzi was first arrested Dec. 21 and charged with sodomy and sexual conduct against a child involving two former students. The single count of sodomy relates to a student who was 4 years old when Bernagozzi allegedly abused him from September 1989 to January 1990, court records state. The sexual conduct against a child charge involved another student who was between 8 and 10 years old when Bernagozzi allegedly abused him from November 1997 to January 2000, the records show.

Castaldo said the new charge involves a third former student. Statutes of limitations prevented prosecutors from bringing additional charges against Bernagozzi related to the abuse of that particular student.

LaVelle said he was made aware of the photo negatives last week as the district attorney's office turned over discovery in the civil cases.

Bernagozzi is due back in criminal court July 12.

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