A Bronx High School of Science teacher who has earned national acclaim for his work with the school's debate team has been arrested by the FBI on child porn charges, accused of using apps like KIK and Instagram to solicit nude selfies of boys in exchange for money.
Jon Cruz appeared in federal court Friday on charges of producing, distributing and receiving child pornography. According to his bio on the Bronx High School of Science's website, Cruz teaches an advanced placement government and politics class with economics at the school.
Federal prosecutors allege Cruz used the chat app KIK to contact boys both in New York and out of state beginning last July, asking them at first to send him photos of their face and feet, as well as a "thumbs-up selfies," in exchange for hundreds of dollars in gift cards.
Cruz allegedly posed as a 15-year-old or 16-year-old boy who made money building robotics, and he told one of the victims he was a nerd "who had a thing for jocks."
Eventually, Cruz was able to convince one victim in New Mexico to send nude photographs of himself for a $500 gift card. That boy's parents found the gift receipts on their home computer when the boy accidentally left his email open, and they confronted him, prosecutors said.
The boy said he'd gotten $1,600 in gift cards from Cruz, and his parents contacted police.
Cruz initiated contact with another boy in New Mexico after finding him on Instagram, according to the criminal complaint.
In a KIK conversation with another victim from upstate New York, Cruz allegedly wrote: "Can I keep asking things and asking for specific pix requests? I just want to make sure, the pics are between us, right?"
The 14-year-old boy sent a photo in response and wrote, "Sure but I still know why u need all these pics?"
Cruz said, "Can I be honest. That shirt sums up why you get to take my money. You know?"
The boy replied, "O yah lol"
Cruz wrote: "Pictures just have a huge impact on me. Seeing your feet and face and muscles and room and awards and stuff reinforce what a big deal you are."
Cruz allegedly told that boy he went to the Dalton School in Manhattan and that he would be moving to the boy's town because his parents "do venture capital and want to invest in upstate New York."
In another conversation, according to the criminal complaint, Cruz persuaded the boy to send a photo in exchange for $400 to $500, saying, "Redo the point pic please and let me see your bed more close as stuff in your room that shows you're a preppy, popular jock."
Prosecutors said Cruz used three different IP addresses to access his two KIK accounts. One of the IP addresses was associated with the New York City school system, and used 154 times to access one of the KIK aaccounts.
Cruz also allegedly used a photo of a former student who graduated in the spring of 2014 in his KIK profile and even set up a fake Facebook profile using the student's photos. That student was a member of the debate team under Cruz, and the two were friends on Facebook, according to the criminal complaint.
The FBI executed a warrant at Cruz's home Friday morning and found a computer containing photographs of boys posing nude and two cellphones of boys giving "thumbs-up selfies."
The FBI has identified four victims: two in New Mexico, one of whom sent nude photos; another in upstate New York; and a fourth victim, about 12 or 13 years old, who sent nude photos.
Cruz has directed the Bronx Science Speech & Debate Team for 10 years, according to the school's website. He has been named the National Speech & Debate Association Coach of the Year, and was awarded the association's Distinguished Service Award four times.
Cruz was recently elected to the Board of Directors of the National Speech & Debate Association and is serving his second term as the president of the New York State Debate Coaches Association.
Cruz is also the faculty adviser to the Bronx Science Gay-Straight Alliance, the school's site says.
Cruz is being held on $1 million bail and has been suspended pending the outcome of the federal investigation.
Cruz's attorney had no comment Friday night. The Department of Education did not immediately respond to a request for comment.