A former employee of Santa Fe Public Schools who was charged in July with molesting a 12-year-old student faces another allegation that he abused a child, according to state prosecutors and an attorney representing a 9-year-old boy who encountered the man at a local Catholic school.
Robert Apodaca, 30, a nurse and minister, now faces three second-degree felony counts of criminal sexual contact with a minor, a boy who attended Gonzales Community School.
An arrest warrant affidavit says the student’s parents came forward with the allegations this summer to an elder of the boy’s church, where Apodaca served as a minister. Apodaca had spent time with the boy regularly, according to the affidavit, and had reached into the boy’s pants and grabbed his genitals “approximately a hundred times,” until the behavior ended in December 2019.
The abuse occurred in Apodaca’s car, a home and in the nurse’s office at Gonzales Community School, the boy told police.
In an interview with police after his arrest, state prosecutors said in a court filing, Apodaca admitted to about 10 instances of sexual contact with the boy but denied any sexual abuse took place on school property.
Apodaca, who is being held in the Santa Fe County jail, could face up to 45 years in prison if he is convicted of all three felony counts.
He had worked as a health assistant at six schools in the Santa Fe district starting in 2012, Superintendent Hilario “Larry” Chavez confirmed Thursday. Chavez said Apodaca resigned in September 2020.
“He didn’t have any complaints against him in the district in his file,” Chavez said.
Apodaca later began working full time at Santo Niño Regional Catholic School, where he had been employed part time since 2019, Principal Robin Chavez said in an interview Thursday. He resigned in April, she said, adding she was aware a police report had been filed against Apodaca following a “policy violation.”
She declined to discuss the nature of the violation without the school’s legal counsel present.
Santa Fe attorney Aaron Boland issued a news release Thursday saying his law firm represents a Santo Niño student who has accused Apodaca of sexually abusing him during an after-school program in April, when the boy was 8. Boland said New Mexico State Police is conducting an investigation into the allegations.
State police did not provide comment on the case or a report of the alleged abuse.
But prosecutors referred to an ongoing state police investigation in a motion asking a state district judge to order Apodaca held in jail without bond until his trial in the case involving the Gonzales student.
The motion, granted last month, argued Apodaca has used his positions as a minister and school employee to sexually abuse children. It said state police were investigating allegations he had abused a child from Española.
It was unclear if the Española child was the student who had attended Santo Niño.
Boland said he expects more charges to be filed against Apodaca. His firm also is likely to file a civil lawsuit against leaders of Santo Niño on behalf of the student who has accused Apodaca of abuse.
“This is not the first time this very school has had a predator,” Boland said of Santo Niño.
He noted former Santo Niño art teacher Aaron Dean Chavez, who was arrested in 2016 on suspicion of molesting a young girl at the school.
Aaron Dean Chavez later was accused of abusing two other girls at the school. Following his trial in 2019 on sexual abuse charges involving the three girls, jurors convicted him of the most serious count he faced but deadlocked on the others. He later was sentenced to 12 years in prison.
Families of former Santo Niño students filed two lawsuits against him, the school and Catholic churches in the area, but proceedings in the cases were halted due to the bankruptcy case filed by the Archdiocese of Santa Fe amid hundreds of allegations of sexual abuse by clergy.