Bethpage teacher pleads guilty to sex crime

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BETHPAGE -

To his neighbors, Michael Cognato seemed like a regular guy -- until he pleaded guilty Wednesday to soliciting inappropriate images from an underage girl.

He also resigned from his position with the Department of Education and surrendered his teaching license. He is expected to receive six months in jail and 10 years of probation at his sentencing on May 3. He will also have to register as a sex offender.

"I'm kind of scared," says Jeongmi Park, who lives in Bethpage, just like Cognato. "He looked like a normal person."

Cognato, a 35-year-old math teacher at a Queens middle school, convinced a 15-year-old former student to send him sexually explicit pictures and videos of herself, according to authorities.

"There were no signs he would ever do anything like that," says Kayla Pizzuto, also from Bethpage.

Anthony Zenkus, from the Victims Information Bureau of Suffolk, says the effects of the sex crime could stick with the victim for the rest of her life.

"The shame and the negative feelings associated with having been victimized are overwhelming at times for a child or a teenager," Zenkus says.

If you or someone you know is a survivor of sexual abuse, at an age, help is available. You can call VIBS 24-hour confidential hotline at 631-360-3606.

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