Eatontown official faces new sexual assault charges

People
(Last Updated On: January 9, 2016)

Recently suspended Memorial Middle School music teacher and Eatontown Borough Council-man John J. Collins was expected to be released on $40,000 bail on Tuesday on additional sexual assault charges after a second female former student told authorities that he engaged in a 10-month-long physical relationship with her when she was 13.

Accompanied by his attorney, Collins, 57, who was suspended from his teaching position of 35 years by the Eatontown Board of Education on March 21, appeared before state Superior Court Judge Bette E. Uhrmacher for the bail hearing Tuesday, according to Assistant Monmouth County Prosecutor Peter Boser.

As a condition of the bail, Collins is to avoid contact with his alleged victim, a 2000 graduate of Memorial School who is now an 18-year-old freshman at an unnamed college, Boser said.

The popular music teacher and 20-year Republican councilman, who is also founder and director of the Eatontown Municipal Band, was charged on Monday with first-degree aggravated sexual assault and second-degree child endangerment for the alleged incidents that took place at Memorial School and other possible locations between August 2000 and June 2001, Boser said.

The victim revealed her previous relationship with Collins to the county Prosector’s Office after reading newspaper accounts of the teacher’s March 15 arrest on sexual assault charges related to his alleged physical contact with another former student who is now 16.

Collins, of Cloverdale Avenue, was previously released on $160,000 bail on those charges which consist of three counts of first-degree aggravated sexual assault and two counts of child endangerment, a second-degree offense.

Those alleged incidents took place over ten months beginning last May and up to earlier this month when witnesses observed Collins and the victim kissing inside the teacher’s car on March 7 outside the high school where the girl is now a student.

Like the first victim, the student was a member of the Eatontown Municipal Band, which practices at Memorial, a middle school on Grant Avenue, Boser said.

As with the first case, much of the sexual contact between the victim who has come forward and Collins took place inside the teacher’s classroom at Memorial after practices of the municipal band, Boser went on.

The municipal band, founded by Collins in 2000, is a community-based activity not sponsored by the school district according to town and district officials.

The county Prosecutor’s Office ordered Collins’ attorney, Charles J. Uliano of Long Branch, to surrender his client to the Eatontown police after the latest victim contacted authorities with the allegations, Boser said.

Uliano did bring Collins, a married father of two adult sons, to police headquarters where he was formally charged with the latest offenses, said Boser who heads the Prosecutor’s Sex Crimes/ Child Abuse unit.

The investigation is ongoing jointly by Eatontown police and the Prosecutor’s Office with borough Det. Daniel Guthrie and Det. Ellen Collins assigned to the case, Boser said.

The reported relationship between Collins and the latest victim began casually at first when the girl was an eighth-grader at Memorial, Boser explained.

“She became close to [Collins] when she was a student,” he said.

During the summer of 2000, the relationship grew sexual with the victim and Collins exchanging cards, letters, emails and calling each other frequently, Boser said.

The victim, whose identity remains concealed by authorities, has now turned over much of the written correspondence including printouts of the emails, Boser noted.

In June, 2001, the victim, by then a 14-year-old high school student, broke off the relationship with the music teacher, who she had also seen regularly as a member of the municipal band, where she played numerous musical instruments, Boser continued.

“She said she had become uncomfortable with the relationship,” Boser said.

Boser said he does not know which high school the victim attended after graduating Memorial in 2000.

The aggravated sexual assault charge is indicative of the fact that Collins, as a teacher and band leader, had supervisory authority over the victim who was between 13 and 16 years old when the alleged physical contact occurred, Boser explained.

If convicted on the first-degree sexual assault charges, Collins could spend up to 20 years in prison, Boser said.

Collins could also be incarcerated for ten years if convicted on the second-degree child endangerment charges, Boser added.

Whether or not those sentences could be served concurrently depends upon the judge that eventually hears the case in a Monmouth County Grand Jury, he said.

The case is expected to be presented to a county grand jury once authorities wrap up the investigation, Boser said.

Uliano could not be reached for comment at press time on how his client intends to plead to the latest charges, or if he intends to retain his council seat or fight the school board suspension.

Uliano previously indicated that Collins intends to plead not guilty to all of the charges filed in the case of the first reported victim.

Collins is still receiving his $79,131 salary following his suspension with pay by the school board.

State law prohibits the board from suspending a teacher without pay unless an indictment is handed down.

Eatontown’s schools and district offices are closed until this coming Monday for spring vacation.

Neither school board attorney Dennis A. Collins, no relation to the teacher, or Board Vice-President Kevin Gonzalez could be reached for comment at press time.

Though Collins retains his council seat, Borough Attorney Gene Anthony questioned his ability to continue his duties in light of the latest charges, which are the second such reported offenses to come out in less than a month.

The Democratic-led council will not have the opportunity to address the latest charges against their colleague, at least until the workshop session scheduled for this coming Wednesday, Anthony said. The next scheduled public meeting is set for April 13.

After the last public meeting on March 23, Mayor Gerald Tarantolo told reporters that he believes Collins should resign his seat given his current circumstances.

Tarantolo reiterated his stance on Tuesday based on the latest accusations and the information he has received from borough police on both cases so far.

“I think [resigning] would be the appropriate thing for him to do,” Tarantolo said.

Anthony noted the shock that has been mounting at the borough hall.

“I think there is a growing feeling that [Collins] should resign,” Anthony said. “How many charges can you handle and still function as a councilman?”

“Even assuming that he is innocent until proven guilty, [Collins] could still lose his effectiveness,” he added.

State law prohibits the council from forcing Collins to resign unless he is convicted of a third degree crime, Anthony has previously stated.

The council also unanimously voted to remove Collins from its police committee, citing a conflict of interest with the ongoing investigation against him. He was replaced on that committee by Democratic Councilwoman Joyce Englehart.

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