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Teacher At Bronx Science Accused Of Paying Underage Boys For Nude Photos

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- A teacher at the prestigious Bronx High School of Science has been arrested on charges that he coerced teenage boys into taking explicit photographs and sending them to him, the FBI and prosecutors announced Friday.

Agents Friday morning arrested Jon Cruz, 32, an award-winning social studies teacher and a director of speech and debate, at his apartment on East 9th Street in the East Village, 1010 WINS' Derricke Dennis reported.

He was accused of making child pornography and inducing minors to engage in sexually explicit conduct, CBS2's Lou Young reported.

In a criminal complaint, the FBI said an investigation had been under way since December, focusing on someone who was paying underage boys to send him nude and lascivious photos over the mobile chat app Kik.

Teacher At Bronx Science Accused Of Paying Underage Boys For Nude Photos

The complaint included detailed and graphic allegations and Kik exchanges between someone the FBI claimed was Cruz, and multiple boys in New York and in New Mexico.

In one instance, Cruz allegedly posed as a teenage boy himself – age 15 or 16 – who made money building robotics and was a nerd who "had a thing for jocks," the FBI said. He also claimed to one victim that he was a student at the Dalton School on the Upper East Side, the FBI said.

Cruz allegedly engaged in chats about sex acts and other explicit subjects with the boys and offered them hundreds of dollars for explicit or suggestive photos of themselves, of their feet or genitals, or of "thumbs-up" selfies, the FBI said. In one instance, he allegedly paid a 15-year-old boy more than $500 in exchange for explicit photos, the FBI alleged.

The FBI allegedly connected the Kik chats and photo trades to Cruz by tracing IP addresses. The FBI alleged that Cruz used a photo of a student who had graduated from Bronx Science last spring for his Kik account, and said the student whose image was allegedly appropriated had been on the debate team at Bronx Science and was Facebook friends with Cruz.

Teacher At Bronx Science Accused Of Paying Underage Boys For Nude Photos

FBI agents armed with a search warrant came to Cruz's home on Friday morning, the complaint said.

Cruz allegedly admitted that he had been the one behind the explicit Kik requests and that he had been engaging several different minors, the FBI claimed. He also allegedly admitted that he received pornographic photos of the minors in exchange for payment, and said he knew the victims were under 18, the FBI said.

Cruz allegedly said further that he admitted to posing as the student who recently graduated to communicate with the victims on Kik, and further said he had solicited non-nude photos of a student in exchange with the gifts, the FBI claimed.

A computer was allegedly found at Cruz's home with photos of minor teenage boys posing nude, the FBI claimed. The FBI alleged that one boy appearing in the photos looked to be only 12 or 13.

The U.S. Attorney's office said all of this was going on while Cruz was working with children every day as a teacher and debate coach.

"It takes a special depravity to produce child pornography. This type of insidious behavior must stop," FBI Assistant Director in Charge Diego Rodriguez said in a news release. "And others who think they can hide in the Deep Web—or are beyond the reach of law enforcement—should think again. Our youth deserve our unwavering commitment to their security, particularly from a coach and teacher at their school."

The Department of Education released a statement about the allegations against Cruz Friday.

"These allegations are deeply disturbing and saddening," the department said. "This teacher has been removed from the classroom, and will not be in contact with any students. We are cooperating fully with law enforcement on their investigation."

The department said Cruz had started at Bronx Science in March 2006, and became a full-time social studies teacher in September 2011. He has no previous disciplinary history with the school system, the department said.

There was no evidence that any of Cruz's victims were students at the school where he worked, Young reported.

At Bronx Science, parents and students were asked to report anything they might know about Cruz. Students were still abuzz hours after being told of the scandal.

"She didn't say who it was at first, and then she said it was Cruz, and I was actually, like, shocked," said one girl who attends the school. "I was so surprised."

"He's a very encouraging, nice person," another said.

The debate team that Cruz coached consistently ranked as one of the best in the country. The students at the prestigious school all seemed to hold Cruz in extremely high regard.

"He's such, like, a nice teacher and really popular," said sophomore Catherine Tum. "He does really well with the speech and debate club."

"He's probably the most popular teacher in the school, so it's, like, really surprising to all of us," added sophomore Ryan Fu.

"He actually did seem like a very friendly guy," said senior Quitze Eguigure.

Cruz was being held on $1 million bond Friday evening. School counselors will be available for students on Monday.

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