An outraged mother is blasting Perth Amboy High School in New Jersey after two vice principals authored letters in support of a substitute teacher who allegedly had sex with a teenage student.
Anthony Morales, 31, was arrested in 2013 on a statutory rape charge for allegedly engaging in a 16 month-long sexual relationship with the girl. When the alleged relationship began, Morales was 28 and the victim was 16, authorities said.
"It hurts to know that someone took advantage of your child," said the girl's mother.
But the victim's family was even more stunned to find out that, instead of condemning Morales' alleged conduct, Perth Amboy vice principals Sylvia Leon and Anita Dowd wrote letters of support that were submitted to the court in order to ask the judge for leniency.
The letters were obtained by the I-Team through an open records request.
Among other words of praise, the letters say Morales "demonstrated a high degree of loyalty and trustworthiness to his students" and called him "a pillar of strength for the students."
Both letters were written on official Perth Amboy school letterhead.
"It's as if the school district co-signed this teacher's behavior by writing these letters," said Perth Amboy School Board Member William Ortiz.
"You don't take the side of a child predator in a case like this," he added.
Anthony Morales ultimately cut a deal with prosecutors, pleading a sex assault charge down to child endangerment.
By doing so, he also avoided designation as a Megan's Law offender.
Since writing the letter defending Morales, Anita Dowd has retired from her position as vice principal. She did not respond to requests for comment.
At a school board meeting last month, Sylvia Leon walked away from the I-Team camera when asked about the letter she wrote.
Acting Perth Amboy Superintendent Vivian Rodriguez said she conducted an investigation into the letters and determined the one written by Dowd was improper. But Rodriguez defended the letter written by Leon, calling it an employment reference not intended for the court.
"The person [Morales] approached the administrator for a letter of reference with regard to employment," Rodriguez said.
When asked how that letter ended up in the hands of the court, Rodriguez said, "I do not know."
After this article was originally published, Derlys Gutierrez, an attorney who represents the Perth Amboy district, sent the I-Team a statement saying Leon’s letter was “written before the substitute teacher was accused.”
But Esther Morales, the substitute teacher’s mother, said her son asked Leon to write the letter after he was arrested.
"It wasn't for a job because he already has a job when he gets out," she added.
Morales also emphasized, though her son was a substitute teacher in his victim's high school, he never taught in a classroom in which the student victim was present.
At a sentencing hearing in January, Middlesex County Superior Court Judge Michael Toto said he reviewed almost 20 letters written on behalf of Morales, and those letters helped persuade him to give the defendant a punishment in the "lower degree" of sentencing guidelines.
"I've considered almost 20 letters that I've received," Toto said.
"I am going to sentence you to three years, a flat sentence, which means you become eligible for parole in about nine months."
After Anthony Morales was sentenced, Middlesex County Prosecutor Andrew Carey sent an email harshly criticizing the use of the school's name defending a substitute teacher who victimized a student.
"For a vice principal to officially state on Perth Amboy High School letterhead that a teacher who had sex multiple times with a student over a period of months has excellent moral values is deeply disturbing," Carey wrote.
Citing the confidentiality of personnel matters, Rodriguez declined to say whether she ever disciplined Anita Dowd or Sylvia Leon for writing the letters.
Leon remains the one of the Perth Amboy High School's vice principals.
The teenage student with whom Morales allegedly carried on the sexual relationship is now in college.
Her mother says both vice principals should have been terminated.
"I don't think they should be working for the school district," she said.
Follow Chris Glorioso on Twitter @glorioso4ny