The 43-year-old Middlesex County wrestling coach accused of sexually assaulting a teen was previously accused of inappropriate behavior, including strip searches of students, a lawsuit says.
John M. Denuto was arrested Saturday and charged with possession of child pornography, the sexual assault of a teenager and photographing a child in a sex act
He was suspended with pay from his job as a special education math teacher at Sayreville Middle School, the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office said.
Denuto of Spotswood was previously a wrestling coach at 15 high schools across New Jersey as well as head wrestling coach at Union County College.
From 2009 to 2013, Denuto faced allegations of strip searches of wrestlers but was eventually cleared, according to news reports.
On Saturday, Denuto was charged with one count of sexual assault in the second degree, one count of endangering the welfare of a child in the third degree, one count of filming child pornography in the second degree and one count of possession of child pornography in the third degree.
While at Denuto’s Sayreville home in October 2016, Denuto molested and sexually assaulted the student, authorities said. The student, who was between the ages of 13 and 15 at the time, told police the assaults occurred on more than one occasion and at some points, the student’s eyes were covered, authorities said. Denuto also recorded the encounters, authorities said.
Denuto’s cell phone was seized by police on Jan. 9 and video was recovered, police said.
"We are shocked and deeply troubled by what has occurred, and are currently cooperating fully with law enforcement," Sayreville's school superintendent, Richard R. Labbe, said.
Labbe added "as required by state law, Mr. Denuto will be suspended with pay effective immediately pending the outcome of this criminal investigation."
The Sayreville Board of Education held a hearing on the allegations on June 23, 2009, and after hearing testimony and reviewing the evidence, voted to keep Denuto as wrestling coach.
Parents then brought more allegations and another hearing was held on July 7, 2009, followed by protracted litigation.
In 2009, Denuto was fired as Sayreville High School's wrestling coach after parents alleged he conducted strip searches of wrestlers, according to earlier news reports.
Denuto had been coaching Union County College's wrestling team, which was launched last year.
"The safety and wellbeing of our students is our top priority," Jaime Segal, a UCC spokesperson, said. "Upon learning of the criminal charges, John Denuto was terminated as head wresting coach. The college is cooperating with law enforcement. We have no further comment at this time."
Those allegations, court papers said, were forwarded to the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office and the state Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS). Both the prosecutor's office and DYFS determined the allegations were false and unfounded, reports said.
Denuto is being held in the Middlesex County jail ahead of a first appearance in Middlesex County court, scheduled for Wednesday.
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