The top education official in the Dominican Republic announced Friday he was launching an investigation just hours after NBC News reported that a former New Jersey priest who had been defrocked for molesting boys was teaching children English at a private school in the resort town of Punta Cana.
Education Minister Antonio Peña Mirabal "launched an investigation in the case of Hadmels DeFrías," Mirabal's spokesman Glenn Davis said in tweet in Spanish. "We're working to offer more information and concrete actions moving forward."View this graphic on nbcnews.com
Meanwhile Bellaneyda Saviñón Cabrera, the director of the Colegio del Caribe school where DeFrias had been teaching, went on a local Dominican radio show and announced that the disgraced priest was fired, according to reports from local media.
DeFrias, 47, had insisted in an interview with an NBC reporter that he told school officials about his criminal past before they hired him and claimed he didn’t need to “inform them.”
But Colegio del Caribe officials, in a letter obtained by one of the national newspapers in the Dominican Republic, insisted they had no idea that DeFrias was an admitted child predator.
“We as a responsible institution did not know anything about that information," the letter said. "And the international organizations that know of his case at no time sent a sealed and duly signed documentation, neither to the institution nor to the Ministry of Education, reporting the seriousness of the case."
"As you all already know we have a deficient system, since in a role of good behavior, international information concerning people who teach is not being released,” the letter said in Spanish.
NBC News has reached out to Mirabal's office for more information about the scope of the investigation.
DeFrias, who could not immediately be reached for comment on Friday, is originally from the Dominican Republic and was assigned to the St. Mary of the Assumption Church in Elizabeth, New Jersey. He was accused of fondling two brothers, both under 14, in 2001 and 2002 while the brothers were working in the church rectory, according to court records and published reports.
Charged with criminal sexual contact, DeFrias pleaded guilty in August 2004 and was sentenced to three years probation, court records show. As part of his sentence, he was barred indefinitely from any future contact with children under 18 in the state of New Jersey.
DeFrias was also ousted from the priesthood.
"Hadmels DeFrias was permanently removed from ministry and all ties with the Archdiocese of Newark were permanently severed when he was laicized by the Holy See at our request," the Archdiocese of Newark said in a statement Friday. "We’ve had no contact or involvement with any of his actions since he became a private citizen."
In a recent interview, DeFrias expressed regret for assaulting the brothers but said he is no longer a threat to minors and also claimed to be a bishop in the "progressive Celtic church."
"I don't see the children with those eyes anymore," DeFrias said. “I don’t feel the attraction. I am not telling you that maybe someday it won’t be there, because I can’t predict the future.”
DeFrias said he has been in therapy for a decade and that he is never alone with the children he teaches. But he conceded that parents might be nervous having somebody like him teaching their children.
"That is normal behavior," he said.
DeFrias’ name resurfaced last month when Cardinal Joseph Tobin, the archbishop of Newark, New Jersey, released a list of more than 60 priests dating to 1940 who had been “credibly accused of sexual abuse of minors.” He was one of just a handful of Roman Catholic priests who had been criminally prosecuted for sexually abusing children.
DeFrias has also described himself as “a priest with the Progressive Celtic Church, an independent catholic jurisdiction within the Anglican tradition of churches.” And in the interview he insisted it was an offshoot of the Anglican church.
But NBC News could find no such church and the Anglicans insisted DeFrias was not one of theirs.