SAN JOSE — A man who with his wife ran an in-home daycare for a decade has been charged with multiple counts of sexually abusing children entrusted to their care, with two of the reported victims alleging that they were 3 years old when they were violated, according to authorities and court documents.
John Mario Cortez, 36, was arrested last week in the Central Valley town of Lathrop, where he and his wife had moved in 2017 after shutting down the “Growing in Grace” daycare they operated out of a one-story home on Centerwood Way in the city’s Evergreen area.
Cortez has been charged with nine felony counts involving three victims, all girls who were between 3 and 8 years old when they say their abuse began. One victim reported that her abuse spanned several years. The charges include eight counts of lewd and lascivious acts with a child under 14, plus one count of sexual intercourse or sodomy with a child.
Cortez is being held without bail in the Elmwood men’s jail following his arraignment this past Friday. He faces a minimum of 25 years to life in prison if convicted on all charges.
This is not the first time that Cortez has been the subject of a San Jose police investigation involving alleged illicit behavior by him involving children at the daycare, which operated from 2007 to 2017, according to state licensing records. In 2012, he was accused of molesting a 3-year-old girl, and denied the claim. No charges were filed in that case at the time, with prosecutors citing insufficient evidence to proceed.
But in light of new allegations, which surfaced in February and March this year, that 2012 case is now the basis of one of the charges that Cortez currently faces.
The current investigation, by SJPD’s Internet Crimes Against Children task force and Child Exploitation Detail, began in February when a girl who was in the care of Growing in Grace told her friends and a psychiatrist that she had been sexually abused by Cortez. In statements to San Jose detectives that were included in a police report, the girl said Cortez molested her as many as a dozen times over a five-year span that ended in 2017 when Cortez and his wife moved out of the area.
Then in March, another girl came forward to police with similar allegations against Cortez, but reporting that he abused her 12 to 13 years ago, during the daycare’s early years, when she was 3 years old. All three girls whose accounts fuel the criminal charges referenced how Cortez was known as “Uncle Johnny” at the daycare. During the 2012 investigation, Cortez’s wife asserted to detectives that Cortez was not allowed to be alone with the children.
Cortez was criminally charged June 14. San Jose police detectives and the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Lathrop Police Services Division went to his home in Lathrop to arrest him.
Two of the girls mentioned how they now suspect that other girls who were at the daycare may have experienced abuse or other sexual attention from Cortez.
Anyone with information about other potential instances of abuse involving Cortez can contact Detective Armando Ramos at 408-537-1397 or leave a tip with Silicon Valley Crime Stoppers at 408-947-7867 or at svcrimestoppers.org.