Retired Bay Shore teacher accused of sexually abusing students

The incidents allegedly happened between the late 1980s and early 2000s.

Cecilia Dowd and Jon Dowding

Dec 21, 2023, 5:23 PM

Updated 210 days ago

Share:

A retired Bay Shore elementary school teacher faces criminal charges after two former students came forward about sexual abuse dating back decades.
Thomas Bernagozzi was arraigned by a Suffolk County judge Thursday and faces a charge of course of sexual conduct against a child in the first degree and sodomy in the first degree. A judge put the 75-year-old on supervised release with a GPS monitor.
He worked as a third-grade teacher at the Mary G. Clarkson Elementary School and Gardiner Manor Elementary School between 1970 and 2000, but was employed by the Bay Shore Union Free School District until 2003.
Prosecutors said the defendant carried out a pattern of sexual abuse involving ‘scores’ of children, and says one of the victims was 4 years old.
He was charged in connection with two alleged victims who fall within the statute of limitations. One victim says the abuse went on from 1997 to 2000, and the other says it happened between 1989 to 1991.
Prosecutors wanted him held on $1 million cash bail, but the judge did not grant that request.
The retired teacher did not comment to News 12 as he walked out of First District Court in Central Islip.
His lawyer said his client ‘vehemently’ denies the claims.
Many of the allegations against the defendant are too graphic to detail.
The two former students came forward about the alleged abuse after the Child Victims Act opened a look-back window for victims to file claims.
"The allegations are obviously concerning and the breadth of the abuse itself is astounding,” said Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney.
News 12 has learned at least 45 other former students have filed civil lawsuits against the Bay Shore Union Free School District and Bernagozzi.
Josh Silber represents two former students.
"Everybody loved Mr. Bernagozzi and he was thought to be the best teacher,” he said. “People requested him. He was a nice man, but that's one of the hallmarks of potentially child sexual abusers, where they earn the trust of the community."
Attorneys say the abuse started for many of their clients in third grade and believe it started as far back as the 1970s.
"The school district was aware of the fact that Mr. Bernagozzi was taking kids off of school property going as far back as 1972,” said Silber. “Taking them into the city, taking them to the beach, taking them to other places, his health club."
Jenny Rossman represents some 43 other victims and says they have details about the district’s role while the alleged abuse took place.
"We do have multiple sources of evidence that the district had knowledge of Bernagozzi abusing children and did nothing,” she said.
District Attorney Tierney and the other attorneys all agree that many more victims are still out there.
"They maybe wondered their whole life 'Why did this happen to me,' to then kind of know 'I wasn't the only one and this was really like a monster at work,'” said Rossman.
The district told News 12 they do not comment on pending litigation.
Police say this is an ongoing investigation and are urging anyone with information on this defendant to call them at 631-275-2302.
Full interview with victims' attorney:
The school district issued a statement that said, "On December 21, 2023, we were informed by the Suffolk County Police Department that a former employee of the Bay Shore School District was arrested today. This former employee has not been affiliated with the District since 2000. At this time we have no further information regarding the matter. In accordance with District practice, we fully cooperate with the Suffolk County Police Department on law enforcement matters. We remain committed to ensuring the health, safety, and well-being of our students. As always, thank you for your support of our students and Bay Shore Schools."


More from News 12